At a factory in Wuxi, China, workers lift solar panels onto conveyor belts, while others in white lab coats move between machines as they check on a process for etching and engraving silicon wafers to form solar cells.
This scene in itself isn’t remarkable. But there is a new sort of excitement about the work. China’s production of solar panels has grown quickly in the past two years; it is it now the world’s leading exporter. When Matt Lewis, a representative of the California-based nonprofit ClimateWorks, visited the factory in October, he said it reminded him of his native Silicon Valley: The workers, even ordinary line workers, had a sense that they were part of building the future, the hot new industry.