IE Questions: What Is Spark!?

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Wait, don’t you mean, “What is a spark?” Actually…no. We really just mean, Spark!

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As the Inside Energy project rounds the corner on its one-year anniversary, we figured it was about time for us to come out from behind your radio and your computer screen, and meet you live in person. This week our team launched a community event series called Spark! with the mission of revealing why energy is something you should care about – even if you aren’t in the energy industry.

We co-sponsored this debut event with the Energy Institute at CSU at their coal-fired power plant turned LEED Platinum building, the Powerhouse Energy Campus in Fort Collins, Colorado. The theme of the evening was Colorado on the Cutting Edge of Innovation. Researchers, engineers, journalists and policy influencers showcased their work, side-by-side, bringing energy innovation down to earth.

Former Colorado governor Bill Ritter experiments with the theremin, an early electronic instrument, at an event co-sponsored by Inside Energy and Colorado State University's Energy Institute.

Amber Rivera / Inside Energy

Former Colorado governor Bill Ritter experiments with the theremin, an early electronic instrument, at an event co-sponsored by Inside Energy and Colorado State University’s Energy Institute.

Or, to put it another way, Spark! is the kind of event where former Colorado governor Bill Ritter answers hard questions from a reporter in a live on-stage interview and gets to play the theremin, one of the weirdest and coolest instruments ever invented.

It was an event unlike anything we’ve ever done – and unlike anything we had ever attended, for that matter – so we’ve been fielding a lot of questions about what, exactly, Spark! is. (We promise, it’s more than just rogue punctuation.) Spark! is a combination of variety show, hands-on demos, entertainment and learning. But the best way for us to explain Spark! is to share our five favorite moments from the event.

1. Playing #oilorpickle

Spend a few minutes researching crude oil and you’ll see words like “sweet” and “sour” pop up with alarming frequency. Turns out, petroleum geologists and pickle-purveyors share a common vocabulary. This came up in the Inside Energy newsroom one day and a new game was born: Oil, or pickle?

The game is simple – you take a guess: Is it a type of oil, or a type of pickle? At Spark!, our audience had a chance to play for door prizes. Try it out (answers at the bottom of the post):

  • Half Sour
  • Bayou Choctaw Sweet
  • Bonny
Oil or pickle? It's harder than you think.

Jordan Wirfs-Brock / Inside Energy

Oil or pickle? It’s harder than you think.

2. Learning about the power of poop

John Mizia, a researcher at Colorado State University, is saving the world, one toilet at a time. His presentation on how to turn human waste into electricity while improving sanitation in the developing world inspired the audience. This video from Mizia’s talk illustrates how the toilet of the future might work:

3. Live storytelling of the Edison v. Westinghouse redux

Our energy future is often dictated by our energy past in unexpected ways. Using video, audio, animations, data and drawings, Dan Boyce and Jordan Wirfs-Brock showed how the late 19th century battle between AC and DC power is happening all over again today.

This ornery mule has everything to do with technology disruption and our nation's electrical grid. But you'll have to watch the segment that wrapped up Spark! (video below) to find out how.

Jordan Wirfs-Brock / Inside Energy

This ornery mule has everything to do with technology disruption and our nation’s electrical grid. But you’ll have to watch the segment that wrapped up Spark! (video below) to find out how.

4. Getting stumped by energy trivia

How much do you know about energy? Attendees tested their knowledge against some real stumpers, covering topics ranging from coal to renewables to odd moments in energy history. Here are some of our favorites (answers at the bottom of this post):

  • How many miles of oil and gas pipeline are there in the United States? More than a million, or less than a million?
  • Which is not a real type of crude oil blend: Saharan Blend, Kuwait Export, Tijuana Light, or Bismarck Smooth?
  • In 2013, which state produced the most wind-generated electricity?
Inside Energy's Stephanie Joyce and Leigh Paterson quiz Spark! attendees on their energy trivia knowledge.

Rebecca Jacobson / Inside Energy

Inside Energy’s Stephanie Joyce and Leigh Paterson quiz Spark! attendees on their energy trivia knowledge.

5. Bill Ritter’s “behind the scenes” context

When he was governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter passed unprecedented energy legislation that is still shaping the state’s energy economy. Now, as director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at CSU, Ritter speaks his mind – often candidly – on energy issues. Inside Energy reporter Dan Boyce interviewed Bill Ritter on the future of energy in Colorado, from the challenge of partisanship, to the often-fraught relationship between state and federal policy. Boyce’s interview with Ritter included some memorable zingers, like this one:

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If you’re curious about all that Spark! has to offer, you can retroactively attend this week’s event by watching the stage program, right here:

 

Oil or Pickle Answers:  pickle, oil, oil

Trivia Answers: 1. More. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration estimates there are 2.6 million miles of pipeline in the United States, enough to wrap the Earth more than 100 times. 2. Bismarck Smooth. 3. Texas

  • Darque Wing

    Cool event. Take it on the road.

    • Amber Rivera

      Thanks! We’ll definitely be hosting similar ones in the future. You can keep in the loop about when/where those are by signing up for our Insider network, here: insideenergy.org/insiders