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NEW! What is an ohm?
—Mike

Answer: An ohm is a unit of measurement used to describe resistance to the flow of electricity. The higher the ohms, the greater the resistance. For example, dry, unbroken skin has resistance of 50,000 ohms while wet skin has resistance of only 300 to 500 ohms. (This is why you can be shocked more easily by electricity when your skin is wet or you are standing in water.) The concept of the ohm was first developed by the 19th century German physicist and mathematician Georg Simon Ohm.

How does lightning work?
—Maddie

Answer: Lightning starts in thunderclouds, when small bits of ice (frozen raindrops) collide as they circulate. These collisions create electrical charges that fill up the cloud, with positive charges forming at the top of the cloud, and negative charges forming at the bottom. Because opposites attract, the concentration of negative charges at the bottom of a cloud causes a positive charge to build up on the earth beneath it. The electrical charge from the ground occurs around anything that stands out, such as trees, mountains, flag poles, or people. The charge reaching down from the clouds eventually contacts the charge rising from the earth, and ZAP!—lightning strikes!

What are the most common types of energy?
—Abril

Answer: By “types” of energy I think you mean the forms of energy that people buy and use in their lives. The most common types of energy that people use in their homes in the U.S. are electricity and natural gas. Less common forms used are propane, wood, and heating oil, as well as various forms of renewable energy such as solar, wind, and biomass. For transportation, most people use gasoline, but diesel fuel, electricity, and vegetable oil also are used for transportation. And then there’s good old people power—using our legs for walking or biking!

I’m a 5th grader and I’m currently part of a FIRST LEGO League competition. This year’s theme is TRASH TREK, and our team’s idea was to get rid of trash by burning it to produce energy, which is done in many European countries and some places in the USA. I was wondering if We Energies has worked on a similar idea for the state of WI. Based on our calculation using data from trash to energy, we can produce enough energy to power all the homes in WI. If We Energies worked on such an idea, we were wondering about how much the cost would be and what would be the pros, and cons? If I can get the contact of your subject matter expert, that would be very helpful to present our project in a more meaningful way.
—Anishka

Answer: Thank you very much for your question and your interest in alternative energy supplies. You are correct that, in many parts of the world, trash is burned for energy. This has the benefit of reducing landfill space and generating energy at the same time. However, as with many things, it is not that simple.

In order to properly burn trash to produce energy, it must be done in a plant that is designed for that purpose. There are some important items that must be taken into account when you build such a facility. First, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has specific regulations for burning trash. These regulations require very costly pollution control equipment for all of the various pollutants that are created when trash is burned. Also, it is very difficult to predict or control what comes in the trash. While you have no control over the types of things people put in their trash, the plant would still be responsible for the emissions that come from it. Finally, with our advances in recycling (particularly of paper products and plastics) the energy content of trash is much lower than it used to be, making it harder to justify the cost of building this type of plant.

In general, the cost to build a trash-burning facility that could generate 50 megawatts of electricity would be on the order of $250,000,000.

How do people do work with power lines?
—Zoe

Answer: People who work with power lines are known as line mechanics or troubleshooters. I am guessing you are wondering how these workers repair power lines without getting electrocuted. Sometimes they turn off the electricity to the lines before working on them. If line mechanics or troubleshooters must repair live power lines, they use special protective equipment—gloves, shoes, sleeves, and other equipment—that insulate them from electricity and prevent them from getting shocked or electrocuted. Line mechanics and troubleshooters receive many years of safety training before they are allowed to work on live power lines.

What is electricity made out of?
—Zoe

Answer: Electricity starts with atoms, the tiny particles that make up everything around us. Even tinier particles called electrons orbit the center of atoms. When electrons move between atoms, electricity results. The electricity we use in our daily lives is typically produced at power plants, where various energy sources are used to turn turbines. The turbines turn electromagnets that are surrounded by heavy coils of copper wire. The moving magnets cause the electrons in the copper wire to move from atom to atom, generating electricity.

How do you make a battery and how does it make electricity?
—Sophia

Answer: A store-bought battery such as you would put in a flashlight is called a dry-cell battery. To make your own battery, however, you would make a wet-cell battery, which can be done using a lemon. Both dry-cell and wet-cell batteries create electricity through chemical reactions that occur inside them. To make a lemon battery, you would put two pieces of different types of metal, such as a penny and a nickel, in slits at each end of the lemon. If you connect a piece of copper wire to both of the coins, the circuit is closed, and a chemical reaction between the lemon acid and the metals will produce spare electrons. The electrons flowing in the circuit creates electric current.

Who made electricity?
—Sophia

Answer: Electricity is a form of energy that naturally occurs. It wasn’t so much “made’” as “discovered” and then put to use to serve human needs. Benjamin Franklin is the first to record his discoveries and experiments with electricity in the 18th century, and Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb and the country’s first central electric power system in the late 19th century. You can read more about them, and other scientists who developed aspects connected to electricity, in the Tell Me More section of the Electrical Safety-SMART area of this website at http://we-energies.e-smartonline.net/66400_get_smart/elec_safety-smart/66451_tell_me_more/pioneers.html.

What would happen if the world didn’t have electricity?
—Sophia

Answer: Along the spectrum of human civilization, humans have had access to electricity for only a very short time. So all you have to do is look back in history to see how the world operated without it. It was around 1900 when electricity began to be commonly used for lighting—and of course since that time we’ve developed more and more devices that use it, which we’ve come to rely on. Prior to that, other forms of energy were used at various times such as wood for heat and light, wind for transportation on ships, and later, gas manufactured from coal for light. For a better idea of how humans have harnessed and used energy throughout history, see the Energy Time Travel page in the Energy-SMART area of this website at http://we-energies.e-smartonline.net/66400_get_smart/energy-smart/66551_tell_more/timetravel.html.

Where does electricity come from?
—Anonymous

Answer: This is really a popular question; without knowing the science, it can seem like quite a mystery! Electricity starts with atoms, the tiny particles that make up everything around us. Even tinier particles called electrons orbit the centers of atoms. When electrons move between atoms through a wire the result is electricity. The electricity we use in our homes and buildings is typically produced at power plants, where various energy sources (coal, natural gas, water, etc.) are used to spin turbines. The turbines turn electromagnets surrounded by heavy coils of copper wire. The turning magnets cause the electrons in the copper wire to move from atom to atom, generating electricity.

 

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