A note to subscribers on Volts' third anniversary

A note to subscribers on Volts' third anniversary

Volts is finally getting a mailbag!

The first Volts post went up on Dec. 7, 2020. Believe it or not, that was almost three years ago. I want to mark Volts’ third birthday with a few reflections, a couple of fun announcements, and a request. I hope you will indulge me.

Volts is subscriber-supported

There have been a lot of new subscribers since the last time I sent out one of these notes and it occurs to me that some of you more recent arrivals — or some of you who have only heard the pod through Apple or Spotify or whatever — might not know what the basic deal is around here. So here’s the short version.

I left Vox to start Volts three years ago with three goals in mind.

First, I want to be useful. Clean energy is getting tons of attention these days and lots of people are curious about it, or want to get involved, or are involved and are curious what’s going on in other parts of it. I want to arm those folks with ideas and information. I’ve read and seen enough dire warnings about climate change; I want to show what people are doing about it, and by proxy, all the things you can do about it. The clean-energy transition is a vast puzzle made of many, many smaller puzzles, and they all need people working on them.


Second, I want to keep myself (and my subscribers) from spiraling into climate doom, and I’ve found that the No. 1 best way to do that is to highlight all the clever, thoughtful, ambitious, good-hearted people out there trying to help. It’s like Mr. Rogers said: when you’re feeling down about looming fascism and climate chaos, look for the helpers.

And third, I want to remain independent, to do this work without being obligated to or constrained by any big media organization, or the hedge-fund bros who own so many of the media organizations, or advertisers, or think tanks, or NGOs, or wealthy patrons. I don’t want to owe anything to anyone except you, the readers and listeners.

So I don’t take advertising and I have no sponsors. Volts operates, and I survive, entirely thanks to the income I receive from paid subscribers. This is, I have been reliably informed more than once, a bonkers way to do things from a financial perspective, but I’m a stubborn old Gen Xer and this is how I wanna do it.

Mabel (3) & Forest (13), subscriber-supported pups.
Mabel (3) & Forest (13), subscriber-supported pups. (Photo: Mrs. Volts)

But I’ll be honest: while the number of Volts subscribers has risen with gratifying consistency — there are more than 53,000 of you now and I love each and every one of you as individuals! — the number of paid subscribers not kept pace.

So this is my once-annual direct ask to everyone reading or listening: if Volts has helped inform or inspire you over the last three years, consider paying to support it, and me, so that it can continue. A subscription is $6 a month or $60 a year (or you can make a one-time donation). For the price of one night out with your family or friends, I’ll give you a whole year’s worth of podcasts! It’s like a dollar a podcast! That’s an amazing price for a free podcast.

Why should you pay to subscribe? The main reason is simple: pay if you find the work valuable, you want me to be able to continue doing it, and you’re in a financial position to do so. Pay so that those who aren’t in a position to pay can still benefit from it, so the ideas and information can reach the broadest audience.

But just to sweeten the pot a bit, let’s discuss some changes in the works!


We’re giving Volts a few little upgrades in the coming year.

Why do I say “we”? Because I’ve brought on Sam — a longtime Volts subscriber and climate professional — to advise and help with these upgrades so I can continue to focus on the main work. You’ll be seeing his name around in the comments and on emails coming from Volts. Be nice to him!

I mentioned looking for the helpers. We also want the helpers to find one another. So we’re going to do more to help subscribers connect with, learn from, and collaborate with one another.

We also want to add some benefits for paid subscribers. I’m pretty militant about all the pods and essays being free to everyone — as I said, I want to be as useful as possible — but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some goodies for my beloved inner circle.

So what does all this mean in practice?

All subscribers, paid and free, will receive the following upgrades:

🔓 We’re opening up the comment sections to all subscribers. I know first-hand that subscribers have a ton of knowledge and insight to share. Moving forward, each new podcast will be an opportunity for all of you to share with one another.

🤝 In the same vein, there will be monthly community threads in which subscribers can share what they’re working on or particular challenges they’re facing. I’m always getting questions from subscribers that I can’t answer but I suspect someone else in the Volts audience can. I want to get y’all connected to one another.

⚡ For newcomers, we’re developing a Jumpstart series. If you want to quickly get up to speed on transmission, or thermal storage, or state-level energy politics, we’ll gather all the podcasts and writing you need in one place.

Paid subscribers will receive the following upgrades:

💌 We’re starting monthly mailbag pods for paid subscribers only. You ask questions, I attempt to answer them. Ask about energy stuff, or political stuff, or how I work, or why I own so many damn jackets. Anything is fair game.

🎟️ When Volts attends and/or hosts an event, we’ll offer a handful of free or discounted tickets to paid subscribers whenever possible.

➕ Other paid upgrades to come …

These are all subscriber-requested changes. As we get going, we may add other things — revisiting past content in other ways, contests, maybe some merch. Who knows what could happen! (We’ll be asking you soon what you’d like to see.)

Anakin (15) & Forest (13) await your mailbag questions. (Photo: Mrs. Volts)
Anakin (15) & Forest (13) await your mailbag questions. (Photo: Mrs. Volts)

Sign up as a paid subscriber, become a legend

So that’s my yearly plea. If you would like to help me keep doing this work, you can help in any of the following ways:

  1. Sign up for a monthly or yearly subscription.

  2. Substack subscriptions auto-renew unless you tell them not to. Some people really don’t like that! Those folks may make a one-time donation here, outside the Substack system. For those who donate $60 or more, Sam will hook you up with a year’s subscription.

  3. You can also give a Volts subscription to a friend or loved one as a green holiday gift. Why, it would make anyone merry!

  4. And finally, even if you don’t pay, you can rate and review Volts on Apple or whatever podcast platform you use — there’s a reason every podcaster says this; it’s enormously helpful — or you can just mention Volts to friends or colleagues. Word of mouth is how we’ve grown so far!

Finally, I want to conclude by expressing my endless, unbounded gratitude. Volts is the work of a lifetime for me, not only the best job I’ve ever had but the best one I can imagine. And it’s only possible because of you. So to everyone who has read it, listened to it, or otherwise engaged with or supported it: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)