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ABOUT Solar-Roots

"Solar Roots - The Pioneers of PV" is the true story of how a small group of backwoods engineers and business hippies brought solar photovoltaic technology down from space into homes around the world, delivering "solar power to the people".

Filmmakers Jeff Spies and Jason Vetterli spent two years traveling the country interviewing over 50 pioneers of the solar photovoltaic industry in the making of this educational, funny and touching film. The story starts in the 1800's with the early scientific discoveries, and quickly progresses through the development of the Bell Silicon Solar Cell in the 1950's, the rapid deployment of PV in the space race of the 60's, and the debut of terrestrial PV in the 70s. The story finally focuses on the colorful group of men and women who gave birth to the PV home power movement in the early 80's, which eventually grew to define the modern day solar industry.

​We have shown the documentary film a number of times to hundreds of friends in an effort to educate people about the true story of how this technology was turned into an industry, and hope one day to bring this movie to commercial release. 


The most common question we hear is "when will this be available to the public?" This is difficult to predict as it will take hundreds of hours of work as well as guidance from movie industry professionals to make it suitable for release to the public. We are pleased that viewers feel our movie is entertaining and want to show it to their friends, ​but it will take time to find the right partners to make this possible. In the meantime, we will do our best to figure out new ways to share this wonderful documentary at solar gatherings to our friends that are interested in this powerful story.

Viewer comments

  • ​Kristina W. "Great film... It really touched me heart"

  • Ray D. "A guaranteed hit, a classic, no question! The history behind PV and the early pioneers is fascinating and beautifully captured in the documentary!"

  • Jennifer B. "A wonderful walk through solar history!"

  • Don O. "A beautiful and inspiring film that weaves the complex and diverse strands of early Solar Pioneers into a coherent and moving tapestry.

  • Ray B. "It’s an awesome documentary, you guys did an amazing job with it!"

  • Bernadette DC. "I can’t thank you enough for the gift that you gave to all of us, to California, to history... You did such an incredible job."

  • Kyle B. "Entertaining, Educational, inspirational and a true gift to honor the founders of this revolution"

  • Brian L. "awesome movie, awesome hip people, awesome history, awesome industry!"

  • Dottie S. "Fascinating history and hilarious reenactments, seeing Solar Roots was an inspiring and enjoyable"

  • Jonny H. "This film skillfully documents the birth of the seed that has flowered into a huge industry"

  • Lyrin K. "the documentary is rocking and sun-sational!"

  • Rosana F. "Thank you, Jeff... your movie is amazing! "

  • Louis W. "Educational, humorous, and touching"

  • Johnny W. "Ya mon!"​

Status of the documentary film - Solar Roots

Solar Roots is currently undergoing editing needed to bring the film to distribution. We hope to complete our work sometime later in 2024.  Wish us luck!


How did this all start?

In 2015, I organized an event to reunite my "solar family" in a gathering to celebrate the birth of the PV industry and pay tribute to the brilliant men and women that worked for decades to make renewable energy a reality.​ The first "Solar Pioneer Party" took place in October 2015 in Humboldt County and was a huge success. More than 150 people attended, including a who's who of the industry's founders, as well as many of the younger generations of PV professionals. These people all shared a deep respect for the contribution of the pioneers. Words alone cannot describe how magical an experience it was having all those incredible people in one place at the same time.


Never before had so many solar pioneers gathered together for a social event that had no commercial content. I felt that someone should document the stories of these amazing people, and I contacted several industry journalists. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in getting anyone interested in conducting interviews with these amazing industry pioneers. After several attempts and eventual failures, I started to question if their stories would be documented. Not willing to let this opportunity pass by, I convinced my friend and talented videographer/co-worker Jason Vetterli to film interviews with the attendees. Without realizing it, Jason and I were about to undertake a two year project to create the first ever documentary film about how the solar PV industry started.

This first Solar Pioneer Party in Humboldt was so popular, attendees demanded an encore. Working with Backwoods Solar, we organized a second "Solar Pioneer Party" the next year in Grass Valley, CA. Even more of the industry pioneers attended and we all viewed a 20 minute teaser clip of the documentary footage. Everyone loved it!

Our documentary production came to a conclusion in November 2017 when we premiered the documentary to great fanfare at the "Third and Final Solar Pioneer Party". It was a huge hit among the three hundred attendees. The Third Solar Pioneer Party was indeed the final Solar Pioneer Party, but we have continued the tradition of uniting the solar family once a year in an event called The Solar Family Reunion. The Solar Family Reunion reunited solar pioneers and solar industry professionals in a fun solar family reunion party. The First Annual Solar Family Reunion was held in October 2018 in Tucson, AZ and the Second Annual Solar Family Reunion took place in October 2019 in beautiful Paonia, CO, home to Solar Energy International. We suspended Solar Family Reunion during the COVID-19 pandemic and met a number of times for the Solar Family in Zoom Meetings. 

We plan to release the Solar Roots documentary free to the world in the coming months. When ready, we will organize another Solar Family Reunion to gather together as many of the key characters from the film along with industry pioneers and member of the Solar Family to celebrate the accomplishments of those pioneering men and women who created an industry by bringing PV technology down from space into homes around the world bringing clean sustainable ​Power To The People.


Jeff Spies

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Solar Roots - The Pioneers of PV

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Power to the People!

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