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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Examine the fine print of roof-top solar

September 07. 2015 10:30PM

Once I started the topic of the rooftop solar power generation system for consumers, my inbox got filled with emails from people with and without solar. I also received many comments from people whose business is to install solar systems, as well as people who represent the utility companies.

All in all, there had been too much information overload for my brain, and my days became filled with just reading and interpreting these emails and links of various sources.

So far, there have been three groups. People who represent the solar industry, the third party installer/financing companies, have been rather aggressively stating to me that I have depicted the situation in the wrong light, and my writing tilted toward blaming them as committing near fraud. The second group consists of people who had installed their own rooftop solar power system, and they have been happy. This group seems to comprise of environmentally highly conscious people with rather high income, and are not that much concerned about if the system makes money for them or not. In fact, even a few people stated clearly that they were not concerned about saving money. They did it because it saves our earth.

The third group consisted of average consumers, who got attracted by the well-known TV commercials touting the sound of “ka-ching, ka-ching” of a cash register. A man in the commercial even says that “I am sorry I hadn’t installed earlier.” In order to actually experience the attraction of these deals, I requested my assistant, Clare, to first read a typical contract blank, and then call the firm’s sales office to find out the details. Before she decided to dial, she told me that the way she felt about the agreement was that there was nothing wrong, and that it was a very well-written, nice deal. She said “No down-payment, and we get money from the system. I feel like I am willing to buy it today.”

I warned her that I have heard that all such deals once signed would impose a lien on her property.

She said, “I don’t find such a statement anywhere in the contract I just finished reading.” Then she placed call on the speaker phone, and two of us listened. At one point she asked the salesman if it is true that her property will have a lien on it once the system is complete. There was a short pause, and he said “Yes, there will be a lien.”

I happen to think placing a lien on the property (namely her house) is a natural and reasonable procedure if the consumer is provided with an expensive solar rooftop power system.

Since such a rooftop system is attached structurally to the roof, and cannot easily be removed in case she defaults on payment, the lien is perfectly reasonable.

What isn’t reasonable is the fact that the lien is not mentioned in the otherwise reasonably written agreement.

The agreement is about 13 pages long, and the yearly amortization schedule is stated without ever mentioning the remaining capital or interest rate the consumer is paying.

On this regard, I must thank Mary Thron of Kittery Point, Maine, in assisting me in trying to understand the hidden details of the contract.

I understood that she is an accountant serving many businesses for many years, yet she did have some difficulty shining the light into the details of the contract.

Because of the unclear nature of the lease contracts, I decided to postpone the final conclusion of this subject by two weeks and concentrate on understanding the details of the roof-top solar system for consumers.

There are several major companies active in this field, and their contracts are all different. 

We must go over each of them to fully understand the agreement. In two weeks, probably we would be a far better shape to grasp the no-down payment lease contracts.

Please wait.

Esther Takeuchi

American Female Inventor Series

Energy storage expert Esther Takeuchi (1953 — ) led efforts to invent and refine the lifesaving lithium/silver vanadium oxide (Li/SVO) battery technology, utilized in the majority of today’s implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). ICD batteries have high energy density with the ability to support intermittent high-power pulses. In addition, they have a long life, are safe, and durable.

In Takeuchi’s innovation, the cathodes employ two metals, silver and vanadium, rather than just one, allowing for more energy. In addition, the Li/SVO chemistry lets the ICD monitor the level of discharge, allowing it to predict end of service in a reliable manner.

Takeuchi’s work was conducted during 22 years at Greatbatch Inc., a major supplier of pacemaker and ICD batteries. Today, over 300,000 ICDs are implanted every year.

Raised in Ohio, Takeuchi received her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Ph.D. from Ohio State University. She joined Greatbatch Inc. in 1984, and in 2007, she joined the University at Buffalo. She is currently a professor at Stony Brook University and a chief scientist at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Takeuchi has received over 140 U.S. patents and is the recipient of the 2008 National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

(Courtesy of the Inventors Hall of Fame)

Boy! Isn’t this lady something? Today, millions of people continue to live healthy life because of her work on the lithium silver vanadium oxide battery that powers implantable cardioverter defibrillators.

Shintaro “Sam” Asano of New Castle was named by MIT as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century. Write to him at

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