Wally Jiang wanders through a field in the heart of Rockwell, Texas, sporting a white, broad-brimmed cowboy hat. The headpiece shields him from the bright, hot sun, but it’s the sun that Wally has come for. This affable businessman from China wants to transform the barren expanse before him into a sparkling new solar factory, equipped with a training center, hotel, and convention center. “This is my dream,” the self-described Johnny Appleseed of solar tells the camera. “Can you imagine it?”
Jiang isn’t the only one with high hopes for the budding clean-energy market. In her new documentary, Catching the Sun, award-winning filmmaker and environmental activist Shalini Kantayya explores the race to create a green economy, told through the stories of entrepreneurs such as Jiang, of workers banking on renewable energy jobs, and of activists such as Van Jones, founder of the renewable energy training organization Green for All.
Solar technology has exploded in recent years, and experts expect the boom to continue. In February, the U.S. government reported that this year, and for the first time ever, more electricity will be added to the power grid from solar farms than from any other form of generation. Approximately 9.5 gigawatts are expected to go online, three times more than in 2015.
“Renewable energy is the largest wealth-creation opportunity of the 21st century,” says Jigar Shah, a tech investor in the film. While Catching the Sun features many big shots who are placing sizable bets on sun power, it also introduces us to solar pioneers who aren’t so accustomed to the spotlight. Take Eddie Wiltz, a college dropout from Richmond, California, a town plagued by poverty and pollution. Wiltz has struggled with unemployment, but he now hopes the training he’s receiving from the nonprofit Solar Richmond will offer him a fresh start in solar installation. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Green Tea Party activist Debbie Dooley is pushing the massive utility Georgia Power to invest in more solar energy.
The film’s wide cast of characters show how the seeds of solar are being planted across the country and at all levels of society. And everyone of us will reap what they sow.
Catching the Sun opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles in early April.
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