Ask an Expert
Have you ever wondered why shoes hanging on a power line don’t get fried? Or whether cars could someday run on cow manure? Now you can get answers to these and all your energy-related questions. Just ask an Expert!
The Expert answers new questions regularly, so check back to see if YOUR
question is up!
Click Here to Ask a New Question
Click on a question below to see the answer:
NEW! Is heat a part of electricity?
Answer: Electricity is created by the movement of electrons. When electrons move through an electrical wire or any conductor, they encounter resistance, and give off heat in the process of overcoming the resistance. So yes, heat is often a part of electricity.
NEW! How do you get electrocuted?
Answer: Death from electric shock, known as electrocution, can happen if you come in contact with electricity from any source, including a power line, electrical appliance, or power cord. Even a small amount of electricity from a string of holiday lights can kill a person! That's why it's so important to stay far away from power lines, and to learn to use electrical appliances, lights, and cords safely. (You can also be electrocuted if you are struck by lightning, so make sure you know how to stay safe during thunderstorms as well.)
NEW! How do the power lines go around the world?
Answer: Power lines don’t exactly go all the way around the earth, but they do stretch long distances between power plants where electricity is generated, and the homes and buildings where it is used. Power lines run from power plants along tall transmission towers to substations, where their voltage is reduced by transformers. From there, electricity travels along distribution lines, and then along service wires to homes and other buildings. This complex network of transmission lines, distribution lines, and service wires is what energizes the world!
NEW! What would we do without electricity?
Answer: Without electricity we’d have to use kerosene or propane gas to light our homes, and we wouldn’t watch movies, use computers, or talk on cell phones or cordless phones (because we wouldn’t be able to charge them). So we’d hand-write everything, we’d talk on old-fashioned landline phones a lot more, we would hand wash and line dry our clothes and dishes, and we’d have to keep our food cool in an ice chest buried in the ground! And this doesn’t even begin to explain how our schools, businesses, manufacturing, and transportation would be affected. Life would certainly not be the same without electricity.
NEW! Why do some things work on batteries and others work on outlets?
Answer: Small, portable devices like phones, music players, and cameras are designed to run on batteries. It would not be practical to have to plug them in, because we use them while moving about. But bigger objects that require more power for longer amounts of time (such as kitchen appliances, TVs, washers, dryers, and computers) are designed to get their power from wall outlets because this is the best way to draw on large amounts of electrical energy over extended periods of time.
Who is building the infrastructure to recharge the electrical automobile now being built by GM and other manufacturers?
Answer: This is an interesting question, as indeed, electrical vehicle sales are expected by some to grow by nearly 40% during this decade. Through its Transportation Electrification Initiative, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has provided support to the companies ECOtality and ChargePoint America for developing both residential and public charging infrastructures, and in turn these companies are making publicly available the data they collect on user habits to help DOE improve the system as it grows. Other companies and organizations are also working nationwide to broaden the charging infrastructure to accommodate the anticipated surge of EVs on the road.
Why does electricity want to touch the ground?
Answer: It's just the nature of electricity to move from an area of higher voltage to an area of lower voltage, if given a path to travel there. The ground is simply the lowest-voltage area around, so if you give electricity a path to the ground, it will take it, no questions asked!
Why does electricity shock people?
Answer: If you touch electricity, it can shock you. Electricity can shock people because the human body is 60% water, and water is a good conductor of electricity. Electricity won’t shock you, however, if you follow the tips on this website and learn to use it safely.
Why do I need to unplug my cell phone charger?
Answer: Cell phone chargers are known as “energy vampires,” because they draw a lot of energy by being plugged in when phones are already charged or not even connected to them. In fact, only 5% of the power drawn by a cell phone charger is used to charge the phone. The other 95% is wasted when it is left plugged into the wall! To stop this energy waste, get yourself (and your family) in the habit of unplugging all chargers-including iPod chargers-when not in use.
What is an electromagnet?
Answer: An electromagnet is a magnet in which the magnetic field is produced by a flow of electric current. It consists of a coil of copper wire wrapped around an iron core. You can change (or stop) the strength of an electromagnet by adjusting the amount of electricity flowing through it.