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Airs Wednesdays, July 15 - Aug. 19, 2020 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Sundays, July 19 - Aug. 23 at 10 p.m. & Mondays, July 20 - Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. on KPBS 2 + PBS Video App

Aerial drone footage of food production.

Credit: Courtesy of Alpheus Media

Above: Aerial drone footage of food production.

Energy is revealed as the underlying force that shaped our modern world in POWER TRIP: THE STORY OF ENERGY.

The new six-part series explores humanity's most important resource by revealing the hidden energy embedded in our WATER, FOOD, TRANSPORTATION, WEALTH, CITIES, and WAR. Each episode begins with energy's end use — for example our modern cities — but then reveals the “hidden” energy that was crucial to developing this vast, complex system.

There is energy embedded in our buildings, lighting, and streets. But also, our water, food, transportation, wealth, cities, and even our security all depend on access to energy, and how that energy is managed or mismanaged can explain the rise or collapse of civilizations.


Take a journey through the past, present and future of energy, humanity’s most important resource, and uncover the hidden energy that is embedded in six major facets of our modern way of life.

Shot in dazzling locations around the world, the first episode, WATER, investigates the rise of ancient civilizations due to their harnessing of water. In the ancient middle east, water was difficult to access, and massive aqueducts were constructed to bring pure mountain water from its source high in the mountains down to villages and farms.

Later, the power of flowing water was harnessed and converted to mechanical energy, and in Europe cities often grew around rivers. After the industrial revolution, electricity was added to the equation and the twin forces of water and energy combined to build our modern world. In the developed world, water and energy are now inextricably linked.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Alpheus Media

California Aqueduct

These surprising links between water and energy are introduced in WATER as the foundation, and energy sources grow more complex in future episodes FOOD, TRANSPORTATION, WEALTH, CITIES, and WAR.

The series aims to deepen our understanding of these issues and inspire us all to take action to avoid the downsides of energy like pollution and climate change.

The Horrors of Surgery Before Energy

Before modern energy, surgery in hospitals was a nightmare. Doctors would drip hot wax from candles into open wounds. Patients might survive the surgery but would frequently die from infection during recovery. After modern medicine gained electricity, fossil fuels for plastics and pharmaceuticals, running hot water and stainless steel, surviving surgery became more likely.

“Our goal is to help people understand how the modern world as we know it would not exist without energy,” said Michael E. Webber, author of the book on which the series was based. “Energy is humanity's single most important resource. In 2020, as we face down growing demand for and accumulating environmental impacts from energy, we are at a crossroads and the stakes are high. But history shows us that energy's great value is that it allows societies to reinvent themselves. I’m optimistic that we can avoid a future crisis if we make the right choices.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Alpheus Media

Vertical Farming at SPREAD, Kyoto, Japan.

Hear from notable experts like Ernest Moniz, former Secretary of Energy of the United States; Dr. Michael E. Webber, author and professor; and Author Vijaya Nagarajan.

The series provides viewers with historical context, a global perspective, and an optimistic view of the future for energy. It reveals that each kind of energy has trade-offs. From whale oil to steam, coal, petroleum, solar and nuclear, society has constantly reinvented itself as the forms of energy change.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Alpheus Media

Nuclear Power Plant using water for cooling, France.


Episode 1: “Water” airs Wednesday, July 15 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Sunday, July 19 at 10 p.m. & Monday, July 20 at 7 p.m. on KPBS 2 - Journey back in time and across the world to learn the history of energy and water. Today, water and energy are interconnected, for better or worse, but how can we make energy less "thirsty" and water less energy intensive?

Episode 2: “Food” airs Wednesday, July 22 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Sunday, July 26 at 10 p.m. & Monday, July 27 at 7 p.m. on KPBS 2 - Discover how much energy it takes to bring us our food. Energy enables a stable supply in the global food system, but it's not without waste. How do we harness energy to feed a growing population without the downsides of industrialization?

The Farm Woman's Dream

In "A Farm Woman's Dream," a deleted scene from the documentary series POWER TRIP: THE STORY OF ENERGY, marketing campaigns in the early 20th century were designed to show that rural women were the primary beneficiaries of dams and hydro-electric projects that would bring power to rural areas across the United States​.

Episode 3: “Transportation” airs Wednesday, July 29 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Sunday, Aug. 2 at 10 p.m. & Monday, Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. on KPBS 2 - Travel across the centuries to discover the energy that brings us modern transportation. Machines help us travel over land and across the sky, changing societies and our sense of place, but they require an enormous amount of energy.

The New York Horse Manure Crisis

New York City was a crowded mess: no one could figure out what to do with all the horse manure, urine, and rotting horse carcasses on the streets spreading disease. New York had over 100,000 horses producing over 2.5 million pounds of manure every day. Fossil fuel powered trains, electric streetcars and internal combustion vehicles were seen as the clean-energy alternative.

Episode 4: “Wealth” airs Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Sunday, Aug. 9 at 10 p.m. & Monday, Aug. 10 at 7 p.m. on KPBS 2 - Learn how energy changes the way wealth is concentrated in the modern world. Wealth was once tied to land ownership, but today, it is tied to energy and who controls it, creating a cascade of social and economic effects.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Alpheus Media

Offshore oil rig workers

Episode 5: “Cities” airs Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Sunday, Aug. 16 at 10 p.m. & Monday, Aug. 17 at 7 p.m. on KPBS 2 - See just how cities consume 40 percent of U.S. energy. Cities shape our relationship with the natural and built environment, and the futures of both cities and energy are closely connected.

Lamp Lighters and Moonlight Towers

In most major cities before public lighting, people had to carry torches to go out at night. It was not unusual for con men to offer wayward strangers or visitors their services for a fee to light their path through a dark, unknown city after sunset, only to lead them into an alley where their colleagues would rob them. The rise of city lighting reduced those risks and made the streets safer.

Episode 6: “War” airs Wednesday, Aug. 19 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Sunday, Aug. 23 at 10 p.m. & Monday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. on KPBS 2 - Discover how energy, depending on how it's used, can lead to either peace or conflict. Energy can be both the cause and the instrument of modern war, and advances in energy have historically arisen during the urgency of wartime.

Nixon vs. Khrushchev: The Kitchen

Capitalism and communism clashed in the middle of a model kitchen in 1959. US President Richard Nixon and the Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev engaged in an awkward, impromptu debate during an Exhibition. Khruschev decried the modern conveniences powered by modern energy that made women’s lives easier. The so-called “Kitchen Debate” was a famous episode in the cold war.

Watch On Your Schedule:

With the PBS Video App, you can stream your favorite and local station shows. Download it for free on your favorite device. The app allows you to catch up on recent episodes and discover award-winning shows.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Alpheus Media

Electricity workers in Austin, Texas

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Produced by Alpheus Media, based on the book by Dr. Michael E. Webber. The six-hour series has been underwritten by William and Judith Bollinger, the University of Texas at Austin, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Itron, Inc., the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the BQuest Foundation, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, with additional support from the Julis Rabinowitz Family, the Winkler Family Foundation, the Tiller Family Foundation, Pritzker Innovation Fund, and Arena Energy.


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