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! What do the colors of the tags mean?
—Randee

Answer: I think you are referring to the colors of the flags and paint marks used to identify the locations and types of underground lines so that when digging projects are going on, these lines don’t get accidentally struck. The color most pertinent to what we teach on this site is red, which signifies electric power lines. As for the other colors, yellow is used for natural gas, oil, or steam lines; orange for communications lines; blue for drinking water lines; purple for reclaimed water lines; and green for sewer and drain lines. People use white marks to outline the areas where they want to dig, and pink for temporary survey marks. Whenever your family is planning any kind of digging project, they must call the underground locator service at 811 at least a few days before digging begins to get any possible underground lines marked.

When we rub our feet on a carpet, how does electricity appear?
—Kaden

Answer: In this situation we are experiencing static electricity, or the buildup of electric charges on an object. Electric charges are carried by electrons. When we shuffle our feet on the carpet, we are rubbing electrons off the carpet and onto our body. When we then touch a metal doorknob, for example, the extra electrons jump from our body to the metal, making a spark.

What do you remove from natural gas?
—Jack

Answer: Before natural gas can be used as fuel, naturally occurring water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other molecules considered impurities must be removed. This is done in a treatment process called “sweetening” the gas.

What’s the best way to save electricity?
—Jack

Answer: For most people, heating and cooling are the largest home energy costs, so lowering the thermostat on your heat in winter and using less air conditioning in summer are among the best ways to save energy. Other ways include line drying your clothes (because electric clothes dryers use a lot of electricity) and reducing the temperature on your water heater.

The best way for you to save electricity depends on a number of factors: where you live, your energy use habits, the age and efficiency of your appliances, and whether you have an electric or a gas heating system, clothes dryer, water heater, refrigerator, and range. Check out the Energy Saver Calculator in the Games section of this website for more ideas!

Is heat a part of electricity?
—Heal

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.

How do you get electrocuted?
—Justice

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.)

How do the power lines go around the world?
—Justice

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!

What would we do without electricity?
—Heal

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.

Why do some things work on batteries and others work on outlets?
—Heal

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?
—Anonymous

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.