The people who power the people
First row, L-R: Roberto Rivas, Travis Yount, Dan Kociola; second row, L-R: Joseph Newton, Taylor Woods
by Halie Dalton
We think of data as critical, constant and reliable. It’s also invisible. It occurred to me on my drive to visit Dominion Energy’s Lincoln Park Office in Northern Va. that I’d never truly thought about data taking a physical form. Actually, I never thought much about how data – which powers nearly everything we do – has to get its power from somewhere, too. Luckily, there’s a team of dedicated Electric Distribution Designers who think about that every day.
I sat down with Dominion Energy employees Joseph Newton, Roberto Rivas, and Taylor Woods. These designers connect data centers to the grid and work with major clients, ensuring that the Amazons and the Googles of the world have the infrastructure they need to provide us with what we need – data. They do critical work safely, efficiently, and under aggressive timelines. And they’re there from conception, all the way to connection.
“We help design all of the electric infrastructure from the substation, to the meter on the side of the building for commercial data center projects,” said Joseph when I asked how he explains his job to friends and family.
Taylor added that, alongside the Project Managers, “we have a hand in the projects from start to finish.”
This shout out to the Project Managers was intentional. In fact, as I talked to all of the data center team members, as I sat in on their staff meeting, they never failed to mention their gratitude for the many groups that work on these projects.
“We really work with every group throughout the company,” Joseph pointed out. “One Dominion Energy is really stressed here. We’re always dropping what we’re doing to help each other.”
Meeting the team itself was one of the most surprising parts of my visit. The small team definitely skews on the younger side, and their combined experience with the company falls at just around a decade. But don’t think for a second that they’re falling short.
“We need to learn and pick this stuff up pretty quickly to meet the customer expectations that are coming our way,” Joseph noted.
They handle the company’s largest and most complex design work, and they’re exceeding these expectations all along the way.
“Along the way” for large commercial projects seems like it’d be a lengthy process (and it should be), but clients are constantly pushing the designers to get the centers online as quickly as possible. Projects that typically take a year will often have six month timelines.
Roberto spoke to these aggressive timelines, “The amount of acceleration that we’re doing on these projects – it’s on a scale that you can’t even imagine. We’re no longer building just line extensions – you’re talking about entire substations, entire breakers.”
And these projects aren’t small. Roberto has one customer whose need could feed the entire town of Charlottesville, Va., where the population is nearly 50,000 people. Trust me, I looked it up.
Even one site that requires that much power is impressive (to say the least), but the group connected a record-breaking eighteen sites to the grid just last year.
Many of these sites are right in Washington D.C.’s backyard, dubbed “Data Center Alley.” Located in Loudoun County, Va., this famed area holds the largest concentration of data centers, globally. More than seventy percent (yes, that’s seven-zero) of the entire world’s internet traffic passes through the area - internet traffic that is vital to the way that we all live, work, and play. And this group keeps it all running.
Keeping our data secured and energized is important for many reasons. So many, in fact, that it's hard to really narrow it down. Their work fits into the larger picture of sustainability and innovation, worldwide.
“The call for innovation that’s happening right now is what’s able to increase our business in this area,” said Taylor. “What we provide allows the rest of the world to be at the forefront of innovation.”
Not only do they enable innovation globally, but they’re always looking to be more innovative in their own practices, as well.
“We’re constantly focused on trying to make ourselves more efficient – the more efficient our processes are, the better,” said Roberto. “Everyone here – you call us the data center team, but that’s not what we do. It’s a good portion of what we do, but it’s not the only thing we do.”
This team (like our growing data needs), well – they’re showing no signs of stopping.