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Who discovered electricity?

English scientist William Gilbert discovered electricity around the year 1600. Before then, people were aware of static electricity and shocks from “electric fish". Gilbert conducted many experiments on electricity and magnetism. His findings shattered many of the scientific beliefs at the time. He came up with the New Latin word electricus, which later became the English words of 'electric' and 'electricity'.

Selling his belongings to fund his research, Benjamin Franklin played a crucial role in increasing understanding of electricity. In June 1752, he famously tied a metal key to the bottom of a wet kite string and flew it during a thunderstorm. The electricity in the air from the storm caused sparks to jump from the key to the back of his hand, confirming that lightning was electrical in nature. Had lightening actually struck the kite, he’d probably have been killed!

I've seen trees growing into overhead power lines but I don't get a shock when I touch the tree, why?

The conductivity of a tree depends on the amount of moisture in the wood. So a wet tree, during a time of year when there is a lot of sap in the tree, certain atmospheric conditions or any number of other conditions can cause a tree to become a conductor.

Don’t assume that none of these conditions are present – stay away from trees growing into power lines. Call 105 and report it.

Why can birds sit on power lines?

Electricity always wants to find a way to get to ground, and because birds aren’t touching the ground or anything that is in contact with the ground, the electric won’t flow through them. However, if they were to touch two (or more) of the wires at the same time with their wings, tail or feet, then they would get electrocuted because they would have made a complete circuit.

If I am in a car that is in contact with a live power line or cable, why don't I get shocked?

It is because you are just like the bird sitting on the wire, so you must always stay in the car and DO NOT attempt to get out. If there is a fire or another emergency that makes it unsafe to stay in the car, you can jump clear, landing on both feet and bunny hop away. But never touch the car and the ground at the same time because you will have made a complete circuit

If someone was being shocked, could you get them free using a stick?

NO, you must never do this. The stick may be dirty or wet, or contain resin from its sap. This would make the stick a good electricity conductor. Stay away and call 999 immediately. Always remember that electricity travels at the speed of light, and we are not that quick – not even Usain Bolt!

How can some people get struck by lightning but not killed?

This is because it is not the voltage that will kill you, but the electric current or the continuous flow of electricity.

Why does electricity want to get to ground?

Electricity just wants to move from an area of higher voltage to an area of lower voltage if it’s given a path to travel. The ground is the lowest voltage area, and when electricity goes into the ground, the earth absorbs its energy.

If pylons and towers are made of metal and metal is a conductor, why does the electricity not travel from the cable to the pylon or tower?

This is because insulators are used. These can be made out of porcelain or glass to support the overhead cables and to keep them away from the metal structures. Insulators do not conduct electric current.

Why does high voltage electricity not jump from the substation transformer to the metal substation fence?

Lots of calculations are completed to ensure the fences are at a safe distance from the live electricity inside. But never poke sticks or anything else through a substation fence. Remember, you don’t have to touch anything inside to get hurt because high voltage electricity can jump gaps.

What should I do if I lose a ball or toy inside a sub station?

Never ignore the Danger signs. Never try to get it out yourself. Ask a grown up to call 105 and we will get it for you.

What is the difference between an amp and a volt?

An amp is the measure of the amount of electricity (called current) in a circuit, while voltage is a measure of the force behind that electricity’s motion. Imagine a circuit as a garden hose. The current (measured in amps) would be the volume of water within the hose, and the voltage would be the pressure that pushes it (the power).

What is phantom energy?

Electronic devices that are plugged in can use energy even when they're not being used, or when they're switched off. Our devices keep using up energy in this state because they are standing by ready to jump back to life when you need them. In fact, your TV’s phantom usage can make up to 10% of its total energy usage.

Why is it important to reduce energy use at home? What are the best ways?

Energy costs money and uses resources. Saving energy is good for your family and good for the earth.

Don't be an energy hog - you can help save energy by turning off the lights when you leave a room, switching off plugs, not leaving the refrigerator door open, and spending more time outdoors and less time inside looking at screens. 

What are the different types of renewable energy?

Renewable energy comes from a variety of sources. Something they all have in common is that they don’t run out, and that they're best for the environment as they don't contribute to global warming. Wind, solar (sun), hydro (water), biomass (natural material) and geothermal (earth) are the most common examples of renewable energy.

What happens when someone gets shocked by electricity?

An electric shock happens when you come into contact with a source of electrical energy. Electricity always wants to find the path of least resistance. Since water is a conductor – and since human bodies are 50-60% water – a shock can easily go through your body. When an electric shock occurs, your muscles tighten and your lungs constrict. Your heartbeat can be interrupted, and burns and internal damage can occur. Electric shocks can be deadly.

What are the most common ways electric shocks can happen?

Most electric shocks occur from:

  • Using electricity near water
  • Using electrical cables and appliances that are damaged
  • Getting too close to power lines when climbing trees, flying kites, climbing on a roof, using ladders or other tools
  • Being too close to power lines that have fallen down after a storm or vehicle accident

What causes a power cut?

Most power outages are caused by the weather. 

Strong winds, storms and heavy snows can snap trees and power poles, which fall and break the lines. When this happens, we work quickly to restore power as soon it is safe to do so.

In a power outage situation, line workers are the heroes. These are the people who install, maintain and fix the power lines. They go out into danger – including extreme weather – to restore power.

A power outage is never fun, but for certain situations it’s especially risky. Think about hospitals, who have hundreds of people to take care and need light to see. Or elderly people who live alone and might need oxygen devices to stay alive.

Sometimes we plan power interruptions in a specific area in order to perform necessary work. This type of outage is rare and impacts only a small number of people at a time. People impacted by this type of outage are notified in advance. 

What are carbon emissions?

Carbon emissions are sometimes called greenhouse gases.

Carbon emissions refer to the carbon dioxide (CO2) that is released as a result of human activity, such as burning fossil fuels like coal. Too much CO2 acts like a blanket in the atmosphere, trapping heat and raising the outdoor temperature. We can help reduce the amount of CO2 by saving energy, by using more renewable energy and less non-renewable energy sources.

Does saving water also save energy?

Yes. It takes a huge amount of energy to gather, purify and transport water. When we heat up water for showers and dishwashers, this uses energy too. Cutting back on both energy and water use has a positive effect on the planet.

Where does electricity come from? How does it get to my home?

Electricty is made in generation stations, which utilise either fossil fuels or green energy (such as wind or solar). It is always there waiting for us to use it, but electricity has to travel a long way to get to your house. In fact, it might travel hundreds of miles to your home from the generating station!

Electricity is carried to your home through a system of overhead lines and underground cables called the electricity network.

What's a smart grid? Is it related to a smart home?

The smart grid uses digital communication to monitor changes in electricity usage at homes and businesses. For example, a power cut can be communicated back to the power company instantly.

By comparison, a smart home has lighting, heating and electronics that can be controlled remotely by phone or computer.

The smart grid and smart home can interact with each other electronically via a smart meter, allowing homes and businesses to better manage their electricity usage.

Does an electric vehicle (EV) use less energy than a petrol car?

Yes! Much less. Electric vehicles (EVs) are much more efficient. EVs convert up to 62% of the energy they use into moving the vehicle, while traditional engines convert only 21% or less into movement. EVs also run on a rechargeable battery and produce no carbon dioxide, making them much better for the environment.