Entertainment » Movies

Catching the Sun

by Monique Rubens Krohn
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Mar 30, 2016
'Catching the Sun'
'Catching the Sun'  

Unlike many of the disheartening films about climate change, "Catching The Sun," the first feature length film by director Shalini Kantayya, offers solutions, not just dire predictions.

In Kantayya's world, climate change is a given and the issue is to find solutions. Through the stories of entrepreneurs, workers and activists in the U.S. and China, her film homes in on one answer to this global problem: Solar power, its history and vast potential. A deeply informative documentary that spans the world, "Catching The Sun" is worth seeing for anyone concerned about climate change.

Although the use of solar power began with the race to the Moon and was hailed by President Carter, who vowed that by 2000 20 percent of U.S. energy would come from the sun, it only recently came again to the energy forefront.

From "Catching the Sun," we learn of the sun's immense power: One hour of sunlight equals the power used by everyone on earth in one year and, unlike fossil fuels, sunlight will not run out. Energy security is a matter of national security, says one commentator, and the only way to achieve it is through renewable energy.

Solar power creates jobs, and according to author and commentator Van Jones, reduces income inequality. "Catching The Sun" shows Jones' organization, Green for All, that partners with other non-profits to train solar energy installers in low-income neighborhoods. The film focuses on Solar Richmond, a training program in Richmond, California, a down-and-out kind of place, plagued by poverty and annual fires from a nearby Chevron refinery plant. For 18-year old Eddie Wiltz, Jr. the Solar Richmond training program proves transformative -- it's a way out of his "hood." For unemployed, middle-aged Paul Muldrow, it's also a game-changer, even though by the film's end he still hasn't landed a job.

With solar power, developing countries without the electric grid infrastructure won't need it and yet will still be able to create clean, low-cost energy for its citizens.

"Solar energy puts power in the hands of the people -- both literally and figuratively," notes Danny Kennedy, CEO of Sungevity, the largest residential solar power company in the US. He claims that solar is "the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century."

"A one to 1.5 trillion dollar market," says David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy. The second largest energy company in the U.S., NRG already made the decision to switch completely to renewable energy sources.

But the 65 million dollar question is: Which country will reap the benefits of this growth, and lead the path to global clean energy?

"Catching The Sun" portrays Chinese entrepreneur "Wally" Jiang, who recognized the magical power of solar energy early on. With the help of Chinese bank loans and support from the government, he started his company Westech with 15 employees. Today his firm numbers over 50,000 employees worldwide. Business continues to grow 50 percent every year. Jiang's dream is to create a solar city, complete with solar factory, convention and training centers, hotel and stadium and by the end of the film, he is on his way towards achieving it.

But the U.S. still can't even agree that climate change is happening. The power of the fossil fuel companies remains mighty and as the film shows, ready to shut down any attempts to curb them. Carbon-based companies, such as those owned by the conservative Koch brothers, fund lobbyists, think tanks and grassroots organizations in an effort to continue the subsidies and tax cuts they currently enjoy. They fight against those who call for cap and trade and clean energy. In his job as Obama's Green Energy Jobs czar, Van Jones is publicly smeared by the right-wing media and forced to resign.

"Catching The Sun" suggests that in light of such immense power and a stalled Congress, the clean energy movement is now moving to state and city arenas where victories are easier, as activist Debbie Dooley, founder of Conservatives for Energy Freedom proves.

Yet will there be enough time? Germany already uses 75 percent clean energy, while the U.S. remains at a paltry 1 percent. Many of the film's interviewees are optimistic. After all, "Wally" Jiang's dream solar city will be built on land his company bought in Rockwall, Texas.

Monique Rubens Krohn is a freelance writer living in New Jersey

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