When I was a ten years old, summers meant long lazy and sometimes boring days with nothing to do but explore, read and get into unscheduled adventures.  Things have changed since then, and if I were a kid today I would be driven from activity to activity with little time left over for where boredom might lead me.  I’m in favor of a little unscheduled boredom from time to time as well as for the adventures and misadventures that can arise from ennui (a lovely word for boredom). 

We did not have air-conditioning when I grew up in Hayward, California, a smallish bedroom community in the East Bay Area.  So, with my father away at work in San Francisco from early morning to dinnertime and my mother cleaning, napping, shopping or insisting that I get some reading done in advance of school in the fall, I was relatively free to wander around unencumbered.

These were still the days when kid gangs were free to spring up all over the neighborhood and where popularity was both defined and amorphous.  We formed small and sometimes cruel archetypes of adulthood where one week you were in the group and the next you were suddenly adrift, culled out from the herd by that week’s leader. 

During my weeks as the outsider I alternated between reading in the back yard of our small house on Regal Avenue (when my mother chased me out of my bedroom to get some fresh air) and a game that I believed was my own invention: the penny hike. 

The rules of the penny hike were simple.  I walked out my front door and flipped a penny, heads I turned left, tails I turned right.  At each corner I flipped the coin again.  After a few hikes I began carrying paper and a pencil in the pocket of my shorts and writing down how many times the coin came up heads and how many times it came up tails and therefore how many rights and lefts I took.  I noted how many times I ended up circling the block and how many blocks I ended up traveling until the penny arbitrarily led me home. Sometimes I was gone all day and in those glorious unencumbered, long, hot boring days of summer no one was particularly worried unless I missed lunch or dinner.  As my mother’s choice of lunch was usually the dreaded pimento cheese sandwich on white bread and a Twinkie (I preferred Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes) I generally preferred the punishment to lunch, particularly as punishment meant staying in my room and reading a book. 

Towards the end of my first penny hike summer, well before teenage-hood, a longing for boys and a wish to leap over adolescence headlong into adulthood took over, I had a notebook filled with penny-patterns, which I tried to interpret.  I became fascinated with where chance would lead me. How many times would I arrive home faster than I anticipated, after which the rules of penny hike demanded that I stay at home reading. How many times would I get lost and how many times would I discover something interesting when I did get lost?  My notebook was filled with patterns that I was fascinated with but could not decipher. 

My mother never asked me what I did on my long days wandering the neighborhood, but in those days mothers did not ask those sorts of things being happy to have their children out from underfoot for several hours a day.  My only obligation in those years was to take swimming lessons for two weeks at the beginning of the summer so that I would know how to swim in case, as my father said, I ever fell into the ocean and no one heard me screaming for help.  Despite the odds against this ever happening in landlocked Hayward, I took swimming lessons very seriously and dutifully walked the ten blocks to the high school pool where they took place wearing my one piece blue bathing suit, carrying my towel and wearing the ever-embarrassing white bathing cap with my long brown hair shoved up inside of it. 

I sometimes managed to sneak in a penny hike after swim lessons by inventing a rule; if a penny were discovered on the sidewalk on the way home I was required to begin a penny hike with it.  As this happened more often that I would have anticipated I began noting the times a penny was discovered on my walk home on my pad of paper. 

As fall and thus the beginning of school approached that first penny hike summer I became bored with the aimless and self-imposed rules and began fudging the results of the coin flip.  If something interesting beckoned from the right and the penny directed me to go left, I would continue to flip the coin until it agreed with my choice.  I dutifully entered these altered outcomes in my notebook, including how many times I needed to flip the coin until my preferred direction was presented. 

The summer I was ten years old was the summer I fell in love with research, though I did not know it at the time.  I did not realize that I was observing chance, as well as observing the effect of bias on the outcome of an experiment. This observance of bias at an early stage in my life helped make me stalwart in the pursuit of neutrality.

I do know that those long, lazy, hot, sticky, mostly unsupervised summers unencumbered with schedules (other than swim lessons) led my imagination to invent the penny hike game and allowed me time to follow it wherever it might lead also leading to a lifelong love of exploration for exploration’s sake.  More than the kid-gangs, games of tag, hide and go seek, visits to the dime store with my weekly allowance, ad hoc clubs, mischief, alternating best friends and crushes on this or that boy, I remember the penny hike game and long for its simplicity.

The summer I was ten years old was the first time I practiced pure research, learned to love exploration, observe trends, statistics and sought to understand it all.  Even today when I need to remind myself about the joy of research for the sake of discovery as well as reminding myself of the dangers of bias, I dig out my old penny hike notebooks and observe the trends in the data.

More important, the solar industry should make sure they know what questions to ask.

Homeowners choosing to either buy lease or buy power generated from a solar system on their roof are doing a valuable environmental service as well as ensuring themselves against long term electricity rate volatility.  You will be installing the means of electricity production on your roof and you should educate yourself before you do so.  Here are more than a few suggestions for questions you should ask before you take the leap into generating your own electricity.

Homework before you buy lease or sign a contract to buy power.

  1. Before you buy, lease or sign a contract to buy power: Do an audit of your annual electricity usage (your utility will have the records). 
  2. Before you buy, lease or sign a contract to buy power: Know what you are paying on average per kilowatt hour (your tier if applicable).
  3. Have your own energy audit and make changes. 
  4. After your audit wait six months and see the difference in your electricity usage.
  5. Have your roof inspected.
  6. Have your electrical inspected.
  7. Do your research on installers/companies in your area and read up on solar – Home Power Magazine is an excellent resource.
  8. Understand the basics of what to expect from solar as well as the terminology (see number 7 for a resource).
  9. Call a few real estate agents and ask if owning a solar system is an asset or a liability and if the same holds true for leasing or buying electricity from a system that is on your roof and that you do not own.

Questions potential residential solar system buyers/lessees as well as those buying the energy they use (Power Purchase) should ask:

  1. For the sales person/installer/company: how long have you been in solar and how many systems have you installed?
  2. May I see a sample of your customer reviews both positive and negative?
  3. What incentives are available for me?
  4. What financing is available for me?
  5. What is the local net metering policy and how will this affect me?
  6. How long on average will it take to install my system?
  7. What are the typical causes of delay?
  8. If there are delays caused by the utility or permitting delays who will resolve them and what is the typical time to do so?
  9. What technologies (modules and inverter) will you be using?
  10. May I know the warranty policies of these companies?
  11. May I know the financial health (ability to stand behind the warranty) of these companies?
  12. May I see ratings of these technologies (failures in the field)?
  13. What is the mean time to failure of the inverter?
  14. What are the odds that I will have to replace the inverter over the next 20 years and what is an estimate of the cost of doing so?
  15. How may I monitor my system?
  16. What will monitoring cost?
  17. Will I be trained to understand my inverter’s functioning as well as maintenance (cleaning) of my system?
  18. In case of a house fire (unrelated to my system) what are the local fire ordinances concerning buildings with PV systems?
  19. How many kilowatts should I put on my roof (not just how many panels)?
  20. How much energy production should I expect on average?
  21. If net metering, what is the utility’s policy and if I am reimbursed for the power generating what is the per kilowatt hour reimbursement?
  22. Is there an annual true up from the utility?  (This question relates directly to the expected energy production of your system – in general, if you over produce it will be handled one way and if you under produce it will be handled another way.)
  23. Will I have a production guarantee and will you reimburse me if my system under produces?
  24. What other charges should I expect monthly from my utility?

For Lessees and Power Buyers:

  1. For lessees: Is there an escalation charge, how often is it assessed, how is it calculated and is there a cap on how high my monthly lease payment can go? Will this be clearly spelled out in my contract?
  2. For lessees: Is it in my contract that you will take care of any problems and all maintenance for my system and if I have problems getting service what are my rights in this regard?
  3. For lessees: Is there an annual true up that I should expect from the utility and if my system does not produce what I need what is the kilowatt hour charge?
  4. For Power buyers: Do I pay for all the power I generate or just what I use?
  5. For Power buyers: Is there an annual true up from the utility – and from your company?
  6. For Power buyers: If I do not generate power equal to my usage will the utility bill me and at what rate? (another way of asking about the true up)
  7. For Power buyers: If my system generates more than I use will you bill me for the extra power generated and at what rate?  Also, will the utility reimburse me for the extra power and at what rate? (Another way of asking about the true up.)
  8. For Power buyers: Is there an escalation charge per kilowatt hour and how is it calculated?
  9. For Power buyers: How is my kilowatt hour rate calculated?
  10. Who specifically do I call if I need repairs?
  11. Who will be installing my system?
  12. What technologies (inverter and panels) will be on my roof?
  13. May I see the warranties from the panel/inverter company?
  14. Who holds the warranties for the panels/inverters on my roof – you or me?
  15. May I see ratings for the panels and inverters?
  16. Who do I call in case of an inverter failure or panel failure?
  17. What size in kilowatts is my system?
  18. How much electricity will my system provide?
  19. If the PV system needs to be removed who is responsible for doing so?
  20. Should I decide to sell my home is the solar system installed on it a liability or an asset?




Visit http://www.spvmarketresearch.com and go to Announcements for a sample table of contents or Notes from the Solar Underground for excerpts. 

This annual report — with a 30 year history of publication — observes photovoltaic industry behavior from the supply perspective in terms of pricing, revenues, production, shipments and inventory as well as offering a look forward for PV industry participants.

Lessons from my Second Year in Business

SPV Market Research is midway through its second year in business and, having survived as well as experiencing growth, there have been successes, failures, decisions I would take back and choices I wish I had made. Here are 25 lessons from my first year and a half in business:

  1. Night sweats will (probably) not kill you, try thinking of them as a midnight trip to a Jacuzzi

  2. Networking is key, but, letting go of networking as the ladder to success and thinking of it as developing a sustaining community of partners and friends is crucial

  3. Every idea, even the bad ones, are worth considering

  4. Old fashioned realities are still true: You will spend more than you think and make less than you think on the way to developing a thriving business

  5. A thriving business will grow beyond you and no longer belong to you but to the ecosystem (clients, partners, employees and observers) you have created while creating the business

  6. Answer your calls and emails and send only emails and make only calls that are important to you and have a point – basically be polite with your outreach and considerate to the outreach efforts of others

  7. Say no to any work that goes against your values and mission no matter how potentially profitable, but be nice about it

  8. Keep your word – including the word you gave to yourself when you started on this path

  9. Volunteer to help others for no reason but to help others and if you cannot, be honest about why

  10. Always do your best work (yes, I know duh) and remember that the independent, objective and excellent work you do may not win all of the available market but will genuinely bring value to the customers and partners it does win over

  11. Please and thank you, seriously, say them a lot even if someone is rude to you – Mom was right, manners matter

  12. Don’t always have an agenda, they are obvious as well as annoying

  13. Take work that stretches your skills while staying true to your core values and vision, this is where creativity and success come from

  14. Use all that time lying awake at night wondering what the heck to do next to follow an original train of thought, or two or three trains of thought, to the business or personal epiphany that it or they might prove to be

  15. Never lose the joy of the very work that inspired the vision that led you to want to share that vision and stay true to it through unprofitable and profitable times alike – the work, the process, the amazing feeling of being fully engaged with the process and the work, this is your true core competency

  16. Stay true to your vision for your business and also be nimble and willing to retrace your steps and start again and again and again and yes, again

  17. Not all advice is worth taking, much of it is like a box of free clothes left on the curb, that is, worth discarding

  18.  Then again, there may be something in that box that fits you perfectly or can be altered to do so

  19. Unfortunately, if you are not terrified at least part of the time, well, you probably are not taking the interesting and worthwhile risks necessary to get you to where you never expected to go

  20. If you are not joyful at least part of the time, well, you took a wrong turn, turn back or, try a new direction

  21. Try and look kindly on the motives of others and hope that they are doing the same for you

  22. Not every decision has to be bottom-line based, try a new profit/loss equation: Interesting work + potential of a wider good – cost (and/or time) of doing the work + value (revenue) of doing the work = values driven profit

  23. ASK for the business, harder than you think

  24. Inspiration is everywhere, even in night sweats

  25. Finally, if you are only doing it for the potential of a huge payout, well, better pay closer attention to those night sweats

The solar industry has had little bandwidth to support consumer research — SPV Market Research is currently conducting research into the residential PV system buyers buying and leasing experience — the goal is to improve the buying and leasing experience for consumers of residential PV as well as to providing valuable education for the PV industry in the US.  Please support this valuable research by referring residential PV system owners or by filling out the survey — everyone who participates will remain anonymous.  The link to the survey is:


It may be a stretch to think of it this way, but the climate is the consumer (customer) of the energy byproducts generated to support industry and progress, most of it polluting. As every business person knows, if you do not delight your customer they will go elsewhere and if you make your customer very unhappy, they may retaliate.

Unfortunately, whereas consumers of products can choose to buy another similar product, not buy anymore of the product in question and can also spread bad-word-of mouth, when the climate gets mad it gets destructive.

Despite mounting evidence and the appearance of the acceptance of this evidence, our climate customer has to resort to extreme weather, drought, famine, earthquake and disease before we stop arguing over the cost of changing our ways and simply, change. The climate doesn’t need as much overwhelming evidence to change – it is changing rapidly. The climate’s attention span does not wander during a lull in catastrophes; it just accelerates the changing process. Finally, the climate doesn’t need to sift through a mountain of arguments against making fast changes to the way we source our energy – again, it just keeps on changing.

It is clear at this point that our customer, the climate that supports life on earth, is pretty fed up with how we interact with it. We pump chemicals through the ground to reach supplies of natural gas, referring to it as relatively clean and ignoring the lack of standardization in the fraccing (fracking) process, as well as the lack of public disclosure about the chemicals used and finally, ignoring the byproduct, methane. We continue to suffer through expensive environmental disasters caused by off shore drilling as well as accidental, or not, dumping of garbage and polluting industrial byproducts into rivers and lakes and we are only briefly shamed by the suffering of indigenous species that rely on these waters for sustenance. We consider the empty counter arguments of those who profit from continuing to pollute. We fly all over the world to talk about saving the climate while the very trips we go on contribute to the ongoing problem. We waste time by arguing over the cost of changing, ignoring that the cost of cleaning up is significantly higher. We waste this time because it requires change that might require, temporarily, an uncomfortable shift in the way we use our natural resources and a little extra work on our part but will ask for far less as time goes on while delivering far more in the way of a sustainable future.

It is time to ask ourselves if we would continue to do business with such a thoughtless provider of goods and services.

Think of the world and all the people on it as one big corporation with one customer. This customer, the climate, has already told us that she does not like our product, pollution. Our one significant customer is not buying it anymore but is instead retaliating and if we do not watch out we will be out of business.

We play many roles in our life, some of us are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, we are professionals, non-workers, retirees, writers, readers, we are married, divorced, widowed, creative, analytical – we are so many different things in one lifetime that a dictionary’s worth of words does not come close to describing who we really are.

One of my roles that, early on I did not expect, was survivor of homicide. My mother, Lucia Elaine Roach Rothwell was murdered on April 2, 1990. Her body was discovered on April 3 and I, though I read the San Jose Mercury news every morning somehow missed the article. I found out about my mother’s death when I received a call from the coroner at work. My mother had a picture among her belongings of my brother and me. As I was married and had a different name, the only reason I found out about what happened to my mother was because someone I knew who worked at the coroner’s office recognized me and called me at work.

I remember every word of that call as well as how the inside of my head exploded as I fell to the floor screaming one word, no. If I shut my eyes even today, twenty four years later, I can hear myself screaming. My life changed on April 3, forever, but it really changed on April 2, 1990 when my mother was raped, murdered and left to be found near a chain link fence in San Jose, California, a mere five miles from my house.

My mother never did anything by half measures. She was a paranoid schizophrenic and before shock therapy as well as the medications necessary to mitigate symptoms and frankly, her fear of being shut away from society, transformed her exuberant and lively personality, she was creative, audacious, brilliant and frustratingly good at honing in on a person’s weaknesses. Oh my, did she drive my father crazy. And, oh my, though I know that motherhood was her favorite role, she could be terrifying in her madness. I must now, sadly, be honest about this last, when I was a small child she was often not present for me, or too present for me, and the war my parents waged with each other was almost always too much for my younger brother and for me. Knowing all of this, when my mother put on her mask of timidity I lost all the rest – from the rages to her bountiful imagination. I did not lose her courage. My mother remained courageous to the end.

In any case, back to no half measures – my mother’s murder was the jackpot of horrific crimes, she died a raped and murdered homeless schizophrenic who lived in a homeless camp so close to my – her daughter’s – house as to always raise questions about why I was not taking care of her at the time. The simple, sad, horrible answer is that I tried. I live with that sad answer even today. No one’s judgment about this, and plenty have judged, including the presiding judge at the first trial of her murderer, my ex-husband’s work associates and others, has ever been harsher than the judgment I have visited on myself – though this has made me far less judgmental of others and, hopefully, kinder.

My mother was the kindest, bravest, smartest and craziest person I ever knew. I did not appreciate all of the wonderful contradictory aspects of her nature when she was alive and I hunt for her kindness, strength of character and intelligence in every person I meet as well as in myself. If I can live up to even the smallest fraction of her true character, I will have lived a good life.

When she was alive and I was young, my mother took in every stray and gave completely of herself to help her friends, family and others no matter the personal sacrifice. No one else was ever as kind to her during her sad life as she was to every single person she met or knew. My father regularly put her on busses and shipped her back to her family in Tennessee, who then shipped her right back to us. These vacations from my mother were a part of my growing up. Yet, when as a family we drove to Tennessee to visit her parents, my parents held hands in the front seat of the car for the entire trip – one of life’s little contradictions. Life, I have found, is steeped in unappreciated contradictions. I am okay with these lapses; my life has trained me to expect a degree of upheaval and contradictory behavior.

When she was alive and I was young, my father would grow frustrated with my mother and beat her. I do not think many days passed when my mother escaped a beating of some sort, and yet when my father lost his temper at his challenging teenage daughter (who loved to talk back and often climbed out of her bedroom window at night) and approached me in a menacing way, she stood between us until he backed away. My mother was not even five feet tall and she was always very slight. I can picture her standing there, willing to take blows that were coming my way and I know in my heart the courage and strength and love it took her to stand there – I have never encountered a quieter or more steadfast courage since.

My father took great pains to make sure that my brother and I, but especially me, stayed far away from her. I grew up avoiding her – and, oh, how that must have broken her heart. My mother had the most expansive heart that I have ever come across. In comparison my own heart is a relatively lean organ.

I miss my mother’s intelligence, her insights and her frustrating ability to understand almost instantly the most complex situations and problems – she was by profession a teacher. She was, by all accounts, a very good teacher. People who knew her remember her as the smartest person they ever knew. My mother put this to work during my school breaks by making me read all the classics, which I secretly loved and never thanked her for making me do. 

Lucia Elaine Roach Rothwell was murdered on April 2, 1990. I miss the teacher, the mother, the beautiful woman she was until shock therapy, medication and just the sad life she lived robbed her of her looks. Someone else robbed her of her life and my chance to make it all up to her. I miss her strength and wish I had half as much. I miss her kind heart, and wish I were a fraction as kind. I remember her now and always but on April 2, I remember everything.


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