For the past year or so, I've been working on a documentary project with Detroit Public Television called "Beyond the Light Switch." It's taken me from the ARPA-e conference in Washington, D.C., to the frack fields of North Texas. I've interviewed folks ranging from the McCulloughs, a wheat and wind farming family, to U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Jon Welinghoff. And I've visited facilities such as the world's first coal plant to combine carbon dioxide capture with underground storage and a 19th-century home in New Jersey newly outfitted with solar panels (courtesy of my friend and colleague George Musser).

The project's goal is to illuminate some of what really happens when you flip on the light switch as well as the complex energy choices facing the U.S. After all, we need to update the world's largest machine—the electricity grid—for the 21st century while answering the challenges posed by climate change, economic competitiveness and securing our energy future. It's important and a good story, I hope. If it is, you can thank the talented production team of Ed Moore, Bill Kubota, Paul Dzendzel, Genevieve Savage and Jordan Wingrove as well as all the folks at DPTV. If it isn't, blame me.

Judge for yourself if you happen to be in the Detroit area, where the first episode airs tonight on Channel 56 at 9 PM EST followed by the second hour on Nov. 23 at 9 PM EST. And stay tuned for updates on when the show airs on your local PBS station, as well as web extra videos and other related content on the Scientific American website and


The U.S. stands at an energy crossroads; it's up to us to decide the right way forward.