Ask an Expert about Electricity &
Energy Efficiency

 

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!

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Click on a question below to see the answer:

NEW! Just wondering how quickly kids get answers to their questions?
—Tracy

Answer: The Expert answers questions as quickly as possible. Sometimes it can take up to two weeks. But while the Expert researches answers to questions she receives from students, there is a lot to learn and many engaging activities and games to be played on this website!

What happens if a hair dryer falls in your tub?
—Sue

Answer: Keep your hair dryer far away from your bath. If a plugged-in hair dryer were to fall in your tub, electricity could travel through the water and give you a serious or fatal shock. In fact, this very thing happened about 15 years ago to a 33-year-old former beauty queen. While blow-drying her hair in the tub, she dropped the dryer into the water, and was instantly electrocuted. For tips about using electricity safely around water, go to http://santeecooper.e-smartonline.net/66400_get_smart/elec_safety-smart/66421_electricity_can_hurt/water.html.

What are the five forms of energy?
—Jakob

Answer: The five forms of energy are chemical energy, radiant energy, mechanical energy, electrical energy, and nuclear energy. To read more about each, check out the "Learn About Energy" page of our Energy-SMART! section on this site at http://santeecooper.e-smartonline.net/66400_get_smart/energy-smart/66521_learn_energy/index.html.

I need more information on the Santee Cooper utility.
—Joanna

Answer: I'm not sure exactly what type of information you're after, but if you check out the green Santee Cooper History tab at the top right of the pages on this site you will find lots of information about Santee Cooper history (http://santeecooper.e-smartonline.net/history.php). You can also browse the Santee Cooper site itself by clicking on their logo at the very top right of this Ask an Expert page.

Can you die from contact with electricity?
—Yo

Answer: Yes, it is possible that you could die from contact with electricity. High–voltage electricity from power lines can burn you from the inside out if you contact it. It can also blast you clear of the circuit, but the shock or fall can be fatal. Low–voltage electricity (such as that found in your home), can cause muscle spasms that lock you to the circuit. It can also interfere with your heartbeat.

Is energy safe to be around?
—Lucy

Answer: Yes, energy is safe to be around as long as you know how to use it safely. This involves learning how electricity works and how to make sure you never become a part of its path. You can find all the basics you need to know about this by studying the Electrical Safety-SMART section of this website.

How much energy from lightning can your body take before you die?
—Jade

Answer: A lightning strike can carry up to 100 million volts. (It would take 8 million car batteries to supply that much electricity!) But this is a question that has no precise answer, because electricity’s effects on the human body vary according to each situation. Some people die from low-voltage contact, while others survive high-voltage shocks. You don’t ever want to risk it, as there is no “safe” amount of lightning that a person can necessarily survive. You can read all about lightning safety in the Electrical Emergencies part of the Electrical Safety-SMART section of this website. This will help you learn how to avoid lightning and what to do if you get caught outdoors during a lightning storm.

I once saw a pair of shoes hanging from a power line. Why didn’t the shoes get burned up by the electricity in the line?
—Will

Answer: Shoes hanging on a power line don’t get burned for the same reason that birds standing on a power line don’t get shocked: they don’t give electricity a path to the ground, so electricity stays in the line and does not go through them. But if the shoes were to touch a power line and a power pole at the same time, they would provide a path to the ground and would get blasted with electric current. It wouldn’t be pretty!

By the way, if you ever see someone throwing shoes up onto a line, tell them to stop! The shoes can damage the power line, or someone trying to get the shoes down could be seriously shocked or even killed.

Is it true that cars could someday run on cow manure?
—Tyler

Answer: Yes! Manure can be made into a gas containing methane. (Methane is the same energy-rich gas found in natural gas.) Certain types of bacteria emit this gas as they consume manure collected in special air-free tanks. The mixture of gases produced in this way, called biogas, can then be used in some modified car engines instead of gasoline, or burned in a boiler to generate heat or electricity.

I have heard that landfills can be a source of energy. How does that work?
—Alya

Answer: Organic waste emits methane as it decomposes—or rots—in the landfill. Landfills can collect and treat the methane and then sell it as a commercial fuel, or they can burn it to generate steam and electricity. Today, there are almost 400 gas energy landfill projects operating in the United States.