Electricity is beautiful

Issue 9 and Volume 101.

Electricity is beautiful

Electricity is beautiful. Really. Have you ever stood on the Sausalito side of the Golden Gate Bridge and looked across the Bay at the San Francisco skyline at night? It`s beautiful, with its sparkling lights, geometric patterns and the reflection in the Bay. It`s not Monument Valley or the Grand Tetons, but it might be the man-made equivalent of one of these. The same view in the daytime is impressive, but not beautiful.

Have you ever been awestruck by the sight of a city spread out before you at night when you are on final approach to an airport at some major city? It doesn`t matter which city; the important thing is the impressive array and pattern of lights stretching across the landscape. The same view is okay during the daytime, but it lacks the drama and mystery–the electricity–of the nighttime scene.

Over the past year the cover of Power Engineering has featured a half-dozen nighttime photos of power plants. These photos lack the detail of daytime shots, but the light patterns, the colors, the reflections, the shapes, the simplicity all contribute to making these beautiful pictures. That`s the reason our artists feature these photographs. That`s the reason corporate photographers take these pictures. Electricity is beautiful.

There are those who castigate the power industry for despoiling the environment. They would prefer a pristine environment unburdened by any pollution and, in many cases, unburdened by humanity. (I have never figured out who would be around to appreciate the perfect world if these utopians had their way.) While all of us would prefer perfectly clean air and water and a landscape not littered with paper and pop bottles, most have a balanced set of values and an intellect that can distinguish between reasonable and extreme. Not all will make the same judgments at the margin, but common sense prevails in most people`s minds. We can appreciate a less-than-perfect environment, however we choose to define perfect, because we are less-than-perfect people and have come to expect a world that has a few warts here and there. It is no less beautiful and no less appreciated simply because it doesn`t meet somebody`s arbitrary standards.

We need to continue our efforts to make the world a beautiful and healthful place for humanity, but not a pre-humanity Eden. Electricity plays a major role in creating a healthy environment for the Earth`s 6 billion people. Crippling mankind`s ability to produce adequate electricity will only create suffering and misery. It will not create utopia.

We engineers and technologists tend to think the beauty of electricity is embodied in its usefulness and service to mankind. It is that, of course, but it is much more. Look around you some night. Electricity is beautiful.