If you think you understand the latest methods for generating sustainable energy, this episode of “Breakthrough” will be an eye-opener.

Akiva Goldsman, director
Akiva Goldsman, director

Akiva Goldsman believes there are sources of clean, safe energy all around us and we have an obligation to find them.

Goldsman directed “Energy from the Edge,” an upcoming hour-long episode within a National Geographic Channel series called “Breakthrough” about scientific explorers and how their cutting-edge innovations may someday change people’s lives. “We no longer have to pillage the world to use it as the source of how we go forward,” he says.


TRIAL AND ERROR is the theme of the episode. Courageous scientists endure failure after failure trying to bridle the forces of nature large and small. “Energy from the Edge” features five people and the sustainable energy sources they are trying to develop. Each of their failures are steps forward.

The ideas range from moderately to extremely crazy.

Energy airs
“Energy from the Edge” airs Sunday, December 6, 2016 on the National Geographic Channel.

Crescent Dunes is a concentrating solar thermal power plant that stores the sun’s energy in molten salt. Nothing about this approach is exotic today, but when I previewed this episode was my first sense of the Nevada facility’s enormous scale and complexity.

Canadian engineer Louis Michaud, a perfect caricature of a mad scientist, has been building progressively larger tornado machines. If he had a billion dollars he could build a full-size vortex that converts waste heat into electricity.

“Who do you contact in companies with a billion dollars?” Mr. Michaud wonders aloud. After Sunday, those companies might contact him.

In Iceland, IDDP researchers are drilling down to the Earth’s molten core to extract energy. The process has a tendency to produce unexpected spectacular explosions, some of which we get to watch. An American brewery Dogfish Head generates power from beer, none of which we get to drink.


THE DRAMATIC moments that give these five stories their suspenseful arc feel a bit contrived. Nevertheless each story does a credible job of illustrating the much larger challenges facing these new energy sources. It’s like reality TV – but with actual reality and real problems to solve.

The companion web site features an overdesigned interface that, with some patience, presents bite-size explainers including graphics, text, and video. Series sponsor GE has a light hand on the content and the episode itself, which preserves authenticity and avoids that queasy feeling that you’ve been sucked into an infomercial.

“Energy from the Edge” airs Sunday, December 6, 2016, on the National Geographic Channel.

Other “Breakthrough” episode topics include disease, aging, robots and (not yet aired) “Water Apocalypse.” The series highlights the stories, people and technology behind these breakthroughs, and how they are changing our world. Executive produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Steven Michaels, Jonathan Koch, Mark Dowley and Kurt Sayenga.

“Breakthrough” was no doubt in the can before the Fox acquisition of National Geographic. We can only hope that National Geographic will be able to continue creating insightful productions about a sustainable world.