Electric Futures is new podcast series from the USC Annenberg Center for Climate Journalism and Communication that delves into untold narratives of the energy transition. Season 1 is hosted by former USC Provost and current professor Charles Zukoski and investigates the intricate tradeoffs confronting California's Imperial Valley with the advent of the lithium extraction industry - an area with a population of over 180,00 people.

The episodes navigate the complex interplay of economic prospects, environmental consequences, and the global demand for lithium, presenting a nuanced perspective from those most affected by the transformative changes. Local business owners, politicians and climate activists are interviewed to capture an image of a place on the eve of great change.

Imperial Valley has been home to native communities and off-grid pioneers for millennia but has received increased attention since the mid-20th Century. Agriculture and logistics dominate the local economy - America's winter vegetables are grown in the Imperial Valley and 400,000 trucks pass through town each year.

Despite this, the economy is looking for a fix - unemployment rates are 15-20%. The arrival of the lithium and geothermal players promises to introduce some 2,000 jobs paying $20-40 per hour. For a region with a mean home price of $265,000, the prospects are significant.

There is a still a chance that as-yet unproven brine extraction techniques fail, providing unsure ground for Imperial Valley College's Lithium Workforce courses which kicked-off in August 2023 with 60 students (40% female).

The handling of 55 to 60 tonnes per day for geothermal remains one challenge, with this tonnage expected to 10x even just based on Berkshire Hathaway Energy production. The longstanding concern for respiratory health is another concern - the Imperial Valley over-indexes on rates of asthma.