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How do energy and matter relate?

Answer: The great scientist Albert Einstein showed that matter is basically organized energy. All matter is made of atoms, which consist of incredibly tiny little bits of energy called quanta. (One of them is called a quantum.) Every atom has a nucleus at its center, which includes two kinds of quanta, protons and neutrons. Around this nucleus are spinning even tinier quanta called electrons.

What is the average cost to power a school?

Answer: School energy costs vary widely and depend on many factors: the size of the school; whether it is open year round or just during the fall, winter, and spring; the age of the buildings; the type of fuel used for heating and cooling; fuel costs; and local weather patterns. This makes it difficult to come up with an accurate average school energy cost. If you would like to learn how much it costs to power your school, ask your principal. She or he should be able to tell you how much your school spends for energy in a typical year.

How is electricity made?

Answer: In power plants various energy sources, such as fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) or renewable energy sources (such as water, the sun, wind, biomass, or geothermal) 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 does energy work?

Answer: This is a broad question, and it's hard to know exactly what you're asking here. Perhaps you can find an answer to your question on this site within the Electrical Safety World section at Try the "Producing Electricity" link within For Kids/Tell Me More to learn how electricity is generated from both nonrenewable and renewable energy resources. Or, if that's not quite what you're after, try the "Where Electricity Comes From" link within For Kids/The Travels of Electricity.

What do nuclear power plants plan to do with the nuclear wastes buried in the earth? Will they continue to bury it?

Answer: Nuclear plants do not store or bury used nuclear fuel in the earth. Although there are currently no facilities in the United States that allow for a common, permanent location for the disposal of used nuclear fuel, all nuclear power plants store used fuel safely and securely at the plant site. Commercial nuclear power plants were designed and built with storage pools to provide safe on–site storage of used fuel. In addition to storage pools, used fuel is also kept in dry storage canisters or casks. Constructed of many layers of steel and lead, these containers are extremely robust, and are stored on thick concrete pads inside a highly protected area of the plant.

Although the project has been on hold for the past few years, in 2002 Congress had selected Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a permanent location to store used nuclear fuel. This was to be a remote, desert location to be developed as a long-term repository for used nuclear fuel. Because of the delay, nuclear plants are required to store used fuel on site.

Advanced technologies are being developed to recycle used nuclear fuel. A number of other countries outside of the United States, including France, the United Kingdom, and Russia, have successfully used recycling to reduce nuclear waste volume and content for many years. Through a method known as reprocessing, fuel constituents are chemically separated after being removed from the reactor. The uranium recovered through reprocessing can be recycled into new fuel.

What percentage of the electricity I consume comes from petroleum (or oil) power plants? What percentage comes from solar, wind, and biomass?

Answer: Duke Energy operates 14 oil–fired generating plants and stations to produce electricity. These units are used to supplement power supply during peak demand periods when electricity use is highest. Percentages for the energy sources you’ve asked about aren’t available because these vary according to the weather, and also because Duke Energy is in the process of increasing its capacity in renewable energy production. We now have 11 solar farms in four states, totaling 60 MW capacity of solar power, and 15 wind farms in six states generating over 1,600 MW capacity of wind energy, with more wind farms to be completed by the end of 2012. As to biomass power, we buy more than 60 MW of electricity generated by the combustion of methane gas at landfills and the anaerobic digestion of poultry and swine waste in the Carolinas and elsewhere.

How does the electricity I consume in my house get made?

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 through a wire, electricity results. Electricity 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.

What percentage of the electricity I consume comes from nuclear power?

Answer: Nuclear power plays an important role in electricity generation in the Duke Energy service area, specifically within North and South Carolina. The three nuclear stations owned and/or operated by Duke Energy provide about half of the electricity produced in the Carolinas. So if you live in one of these states, about half of the energy you use comes from nuclear power.

What percentage of the electricity I consume comes from hydroelectric power?

Answer: In our area, hydroelectric plants are used for short periods when customer demand for electricity is at a peak. When customers need more power than is typically generated during non-peak times, Duke Energy’s hydro plants can be started up and begin generating electricity very quickly. Hydroelectric generation makes up about 1–3 percent of Duke Energy’s total generation in the Carolinas. Although this is a small amount, hydroelectric power is a critical part of maintaining flexible and reliable power production.

Why do you have only three games on the site?

Answer: There are actually six games on this site. We have updated our See All Games page to make them easier to find:

If you put your finger in a power system will you get hurt or die?

Answer: NEVER put your finger in a power system or touch a power line because you could get hurt or die! If you put your finger into an electrical system of any kind, whether it is your home wiring system or some larger system of power lines that carry electricity to your neighborhood, you could be shocked by the electricity. You can't know ahead of time how bad the shock would be, but it will definitely not be good for you! Electric shock can cause muscle spasms, shallow breathing, rapid pulse, severe burns, unconsciousness, and yes, even death. So don't ever let any part of your body come in contact with an electrical power system, big or small!

What happens when you touch a power line?

Answer: NEVER touch a power line. You can get hurt! Electricity is always looking for the easiest path to the ground. So if you touch a power line with an object such as a pole or ladder while standing on the ground, or if you touch a power line while climbing a tree or utility pole, you could give the electricity that path to the ground. If so, you could be shocked, severely burned, or even killed. So never touch a power line with your hand or any object, and stay far away from power lines!

Why doesn't a bird get shocked when it sits on the overhead power lines?

Answer: Birds can sit on power lines and not get electric shocks because the electricity is always looking for a way to get to the ground. The birds are not touching the ground or anything in contact with the ground, so the electricity will stay in the power line. But if a bird with large wings touches a power line and a tree or power pole at the same time, it gives electricity a path to the ground, and could be shocked. And if a bird touches two wires at once, it will create a circuit—electricity will flow through the bird and likely electrocute it.

Can you get hurt by holding a power line and touching the ground at the same time?

Answer: Yes! Electricity always takes the easiest path to the ground. So if you touch a power line while you are standing on the ground or anything that is touching the ground (such as a ladder or a tree), electricity will travel through you. You could be seriously hurt or even killed. Remember, if you see a downed power line, stay away, keep others away, and call the electric utility.

What are Natural Gas Vehicles?

Answer: Vehicles that run on natural gas instead of gasoline are called natural gas vehicles (NGVs). There are about 110,000 NGVs on U.S. roads today and over 12 million worldwide. NGVs are a popular transportation choice because they run cleaner than other vehicles. Compared to gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles, they produce much lower levels of pollutants and cost less to maintain. Also, natural gas costs, on average, one-third less than conventional gasoline at the pump.

Do batteries have chemicals?

Answer: Yes. Inside a battery, a liquid with dissolved chemicals in it helps electrons move from one side, or terminal, of the battery to the other side, producing electricity. (Electrons are the basic particles that orbit the nucleus of an atom.) Sometimes these chemicals appear on the terminals of older batteries as a white deposit. Never touch this deposit, as it can irritate your skin or eyes.

Is the world really a big magnet?

Answer: Yes, the world, or earth, is a giant magnet, with its two magnetic poles being slightly off the actual geographic North and South poles. It is not known exactly why the earth is a magnet. Some scientists attribute it to the molten part of the earth beneath the crust, where moving electric charges cycle around (due to the earth’s rotation), creating a magnetic field. The earth’s magnetic properties can be seen by using a compass, a magnetic arrow balanced on the tip of a needle, which floats on a pivot and points to the magnetic north.

Can you see electricity flowing in power lines or electrical wires?

Answer: You can’t see electricity when it is flowing through a circuit. But if electricity leaves the circuit, as it does when someone is shocked, you can see a spark. The spark isn’t electricity itself. It is a flame that occurs when the electricity travels through the air and burns up oxygen particles.

I want to create an electromagnet with a constant energy source. Would it be safe to use a battery charger or a trickle charger instead of a small battery? I know a battery would eventually die, and I want to keep the electromagnet on for about 3 weeks. (I am using this in a Science experiment.) Thanks!

Answer: Using either type of charger would not be a safe solution for creating an electromagnet. These types of chargers are designed for batteries only. Using a battery charger in this way could cause the charger to put out more electricity/charge than it is designed for, which could result in a short circuit and eventually a fire hazard! Talk with your science teacher or other advisor to help you find a safer option.

What is the difference between stored energy and energy in motion?

Answer: Stored energy (also called “potential energy”) is the energy in matter due to its position or the arrangement of its parts. For example, a coconut hanging on a palm tree has stored energy because of its position suspended in the air. When the coconut drops from the tree and falls to the ground, its potential energy is converted into energy in motion (also called “kinetic energy”). Another example that illustrates the difference between these two types of energy is a twisted-up rubber band used to fly a toy airplane. The rubber band contains potential energy that is converted into kinetic energy when it untwists and turns the propeller.

Have you ever stuck a wire in an electrical outlet?

Answer: Absolutely not! Sticking a wire in an outlet is a sure way to get yourself hurt—or even killed. Metal conducts electricity, so the wire would carry the electricity from the outlet right into your body. It’s a really bad idea. We would never do it, and you shouldn’t either!

Does everything use energy?

Answer: Well, yes and no. Yes, because you need energy to make anything happen—it's what makes anything and everything move, change, and/or grow. Everything that happens does so because of energy, and all living things use energy. But everything in the world does not use energy. For example, a rock on the ground and a car parked in a driveway do not use energy while they are sitting still. However, if you want to move the rock, or drive the car, you need to use energy to do that.

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?

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.

Why does the flame on my stove burners look blue, but the flame of a campfire is yellow?

Answer: A natural gas flame burns hotter than a campfire. In general, cooler flames appear yellow, orange, or red, while hotter flames look blue or white. (While flecks of orange in your gas flames are okay, if the flame is yellow, large, and flickering, the appliance may need a safety adjustment by a qualified repair person.)

Do electric eels really create electricity?

Answer: Yes! An electric eel uses chemicals in its body to manufacture electricity. A large electric eel can produce a charge of up to 650 volts, which is more than five times the shocking power of a household outlet.

Who discovered natural gas?

Answer: The ancient Chinese were the first to discover underground deposits of natural gas. In 600 BC, Confucius wrote of wells 100 feet deep yielding water and natural gas along the Tibetan border. The Chinese piped the gas to where it was needed through long, hollow bamboo stalks.

When a circuit is open, do electrons go backwards, or do they just stop?

Answer: Neither! In the wires of an electrical circuit, the electrons are always jiggling around. When a circuit is closed to run an appliance or a light bulb, the electrons jiggle a lot and travel through the wire. When the circuit is open, all the electrons just jiggle where they are—kind of like running in place.

Why didn’t Ben Franklin get killed when he tied a metal key to a kite string and flew the kite in a thunderstorm?

Answer: Ben Franklin’s famous key did give off an electric spark. But lucky for Franklin, the kite was just drawing small electrical charges from the air. If the kite had been struck by lightning, Franklin would have been killed!


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