How much do you know about the electrical system that runs through your walls? If you’re like the average homeowner, probably not nearly enough. In fact, there’s a good chance you know a surprisingly small amount about electricity beyond where it is found and that it can be dangerous if mishandled. Yet the truth about electricity can surprise you. Here are five shocking facts about electricity that the overwhelming majority of people don’t actually know.
Electrical Energy Travels at the Speed of Light
Electricity is shockingly fast. In fact, energy on one end of a line reaches the other end at the speed of light (roughly 186,000 miles per second). If you were ever curious how long it takes for energy to go from the power plant to your home, the answer is “faster than you can even blink your eye.”
However, there is something interesting about electricity—while the energy is fast, the electrons that create that energy are actually shockingly slow. Electrical energy is transferred by the movement of electrons through a conductive material, and the truth is these electrons actually move down an electrical line at an extremely slow speed, known as drift speed. In fact, in an average copper wire with a current of around 10 amps, an electron will only travel through the line at approximately a quarter of a millimeter per second.
To better understand this, think about it sort of like a bunch of ping pong balls lined up in a tight-fitting tube. When you push on the ball on one end of the tube, the ball on the other end comes out right away without delay. This is the case even if the tube is extremely long. However, the ball inside the tube didn’t move particularly fast, only the force that moved the balls did. This force is electricity, and it’s what we harness to power our devices.
Electricity Loses Energy Over Time & Distance
In a perfect world, electricity is surprisingly mathematical and stable. We can accurately predict different characteristics of an electrical charge and how it will react using nothing more than simple algebra in most cases. However, the real world is not perfect, and electricity is not either. The truth is that over space and time, electrical transmission loses energy. This is lost in the form of heat, resistance, and more. As a result, energy that starts in one place can diminish quite a lot by the time it reaches its destination at either your home or the next step along the electrical grid.
This is the reason why power lines carry such a wide range of voltages. The lines that are way up high on huge metal electrical towers that span hundreds of miles might reach voltage levels in the hundreds of thousands, whereas the voltage that comes out of your wall is generally either 110 volts (or 220 in the case of those special outlets for appliances). This is to minimize the loss of electrical energy over long-distance transmission. By keeping these lines up high, it’s perfectly safe to transmit electricity in this way, and a lot more efficient.
Your Body Has Electricity in It
Almost everybody knows that exposing yourself to electrical shock isn’t good. At best, it hurts a bit, and at worst, it can kill you. In fact, it doesn’t take a lot of electrical exposure to kill you either. However, your body isn’t totally averse to electricity, and in fact, your body uses it constantly, 24/7, for your entire life. How? To power your heart.
Tiny electrical charges are what cause the muscle cells in your heart to contract, creating the muscular motion that we know of as our heartbeat. ECG machines, or electrocardiogram machines, are actually very sensitive electrical current detectors that pick up on these small electrical surges to monitor how your heart is operating. This type of screening is incredibly accurate, and can detect even small problems with your heartbeat that might be an indicator of some sort of far more serious health issue.
Almost All Electrical Generation Is Essentially the Same
With very few exceptions (notably solar energy systems), generating electricity is done using virtually identical processes across the board. Whether it’s a coal-powered system, a hydroelectric dam, or even a nuclear power substation, the actual creation of electricity uses more or less the same process. In these generators, a heat source brings water up to a high temperature, causing it to turn into steam. Steam, being a gas, can be compressed into extremely high pressures, and those high pressures contain a lot of force. This steam is then forced through a fan at extremely high speeds, spinning the fan incredibly rapidly. This fan is connected to a powerful magnet, turning it inside a robust coil of wire at high speed. It’s this turning of a magnet inside a coil of wire that creates electrical current that we then use to power our homes and our lives.
The only major difference? How the water is heated. In a coal power plant, the water is fed through coils that are kept extremely hot by constant burning of coal. In nuclear power plants, the water is heated by residual thermal energy from a contained nuclear reaction. In a hydroelectric dam, the water isn’t actually turned into steam, but rather the force of rushing water is used to turn the generator fan blades, so the water isn’t actually heated at all (one of the reasons hydroelectric power is hailed as a “green” power source).
Has something gone wrong with your electrical system? We can help! Call Lightning Bug Electric at (404) 471-3847 to schedule a service appointment today.