I didn’t want to take money from dudes living in cardboard shacks. But they insisted, so I said, “Uh…$200.” Right there, one of them pulled out a big roll of hundred-dollar bills from his pocket, peeled off a couple, and bought the kit. I was hoping my Sol Mates — that’s what I started calling my kits — would make their lives in the canyon a little bit more comfortable. But the funny thing is, I made the most sales when their work was done and they were getting ready to go back to Oaxaca or wherever. They wanted them for their houses back home.
I probably sold about 20 kits to those guys. It was a hot business for me. And the irony, man…I couldn’t get over the irony. Here I am in the richest country in the world trying for 15, 20 years to get people interested in this technology that could change the world. And my best customers turn out to be migrant farm workers from the Third World.
But I’m not giving up on solar power. There’s just too much potential there. That little briefcase over there — the Sol Mate — can change the world. And the Sol Q could make millions and millions of dollars. In the meantime, I make a little money with my video work, and I do a little sales work with rooftop solar-panel companies. That’s all I need to survive. I don’t have a lot of bills…haven’t paid rent in several years. I crash on that couch over there, or kind of bounce from friend to friend. I’m a gypsy by nature. I like being able to go off to Peru for a couple of months to help build adobe houses in a village in the Andes — which is something I did recently and hope to do again. I’ve been building a drum circle at the World Beat Center in Balboa Park, kind of a mini-amphitheater. I love volunteer work. But don’t get me wrong, I love money, and solar power will make me lots of it. I can wait. I’ve already waited 20 years. I don’t think I’ll have to wait another 20. ■
— Derek Ensminger and Ernie Grimm