Department of Energy and Climate Change, United Kingdom via Flickr
The last week of my internship, we visited a building that, more than any other, is responsible for keeping the lights on in Colorado. You could work next door and never realize what’s inside—the facility is in an unassuming industrial park, the exterior unremarkable from any of the other businesses. But inside, it’s another story—after getting through security and descending into the basement, you enter the control center. A wall the size of an IMAX screen shows what power plants are on, what lines are down, where people are using electricity. It’s a beautifully simple map of the state—I find the lines of my neighborhood, the lines of downtown Denver, lines connecting my friend living out on the other side of the Rockies, lines heading, eventually, all the way to Stanford and my hometown and just about everyone in this country.
All too soon, our permitted staring time elapsed and we returned downtown to our office. It felt like I had peeled back the surface of the world and seen the gears that keep it spinning. On the train, I watched the wind stirring the trees and for a while I thought about those gears. I wondered if there was enough wind to take some natural gas plants offline, or if they needed to turn on a coal plant to keep up with the air conditioning battling the awful summer heat. But it’s hard to keep up that awareness. By the time I got back home, I didn’t even think twice when I turned on the lights and stove.
Sometimes people ask me why I work in energy. I wish I could take them to that control center, or that telling a story about visiting a control center was an acceptable response to that question. You don’t get quite that feeling sitting at a desk working on slides or crunching numbers, but I know that I’m a part of that. I love how connected everything is, how many lives and dreams are supported on that glowing map. I love that it’s so easy to forget how complicated it all is. How I will spend my life trying to keep the gears turning, keeping the lights on for a world that doesn’t need to know I’m there.
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