While podcasting began in 2004, the medium first generated widespread attention in the fall of 2014 with the breakout success of Serial. This week, the Department of Energy (DOE) joined the world of podcasting, launching its own podcast called Direct Current. As Marissa Newhall, director of digital strategy and communications at the DOE, explains, Direct Current will tell long-form audio stories about how the DOE is spending tax dollars to strengthen the country and economy.
The debut episode, “Tackling the Hidden Costs of Rooftop Solar,” provides an audio history of the DOE (plus podcast-based energy puns) before delving into its main story on the various “soft costs” of going solar. Soft costs are all of the expenses of getting solar up and running beyond the cost of the equipment itself. This can include installation, the cost (and time) of the permitting process, and connection fees. The DOE explains that these soft costs comprise nearly two thirds of the total costs of rooftop solar.
The story also illustrates one of the challenges of grid modernization: coordinating among the various local, state, federal, and private entities involved the today’s electric grid and its policies. Local jurisdictions often have wide-ranging permitting processes (if there is a process in place at all) and state policies also differ greatly, such as on net metering. The podcast interviews several employees in the SunShot Initiative at the DOE, which is working to bring together the various actors in the field of solar energy to facilitate coordination and reduce soft costs. One of the goals of the SunShot Initiative is to enable those seeking to go solar to go from permitting to interconnection in just seven days.
The DOE has not indicated when episode two of Direct Current will be released, but it has promised stories from microgrids to super-sized wind turbines, with an emphasis on the people behind these technologies and policies.