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What is electricity made out of?

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?

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?

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

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

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

Where does electricity come from?

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.

Why don’t the birds get electrocuted when they sit on the power lines? And do fish get hurt when lightning strikes a lake?

Answer: You can find my answer to your first question by clicking on the Archive section at the bottom of this page, where you’ll find the same question asked by Chrispin. Fish do not get hurt by lightning because lightning stays up at the surface of the water rather than going down into it, where the fish are. This is because water is a good conductor of electricity, and it thus spreads most of the electric current on the water’s surface. If a fish is jumping out of the water when lightning strikes, however, it could get caught at the surface, and get zapped.

How is energy produced by the sun?

Answer: Solar technology can be used to convert light from the sun into electricity we can use. This might involve solar cells, which are thin layers of silicon covered with special glass or plastic. The cells are attached by wire to a circuit. As sunlight strikes the cells, it is converted into electricity that flows through the circuit. Solar cells can be connected together to make solar panels, which can be put on rooftops to provide electricity for individual homes. Or several panels can be grouped into solar arrays, and large numbers of arrays can be assembled to create a solar power plant that provides electricity to large numbers of homes and businesses. Another form of solar technology uses solar thin films, which are light-absorbing materials that are rolled, sprayed, or painted onto rooftops or other surfaces.

How many watts does a refrigerator use?

Answer: The average energy use for a 16-cubic-foot, frost-free refrigerator is 725 watts per hour. While there are numerous other appliances that use significantly more than that, because the refrigerator runs 24 hours a day, it is one of the biggest contributors to overall household energy use.

Where does electricity come from?

Answer: 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, 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 is the difference between a windmill and a wind turbine?
—Madison, Shandayle
How do Dutch windmills work? Can anyone make a wind turbine?
—Jhyla, Robert
How did wind turbines get their name?
How do wind turbines store their power?
Why are there only four main parts of a wind turbine?
How much energy does one windmill produce in a day?
Why does power go out during a tornado if there’s a lot of wind for the wind turbines?
What happens if a wind turbine falls?

Answer: Windmills have been in use for about 1,200 years. They use the wind’s energy to do mechanical work, such as milling grain or pumping water. Wind turbines operate differently than windmills. Rather than using the wind’s energy for mechanical work, they use the power of the wind to spin a turbine generator and produce electricity.

Wind turbines get their name from the energy source that powers them (the wind) and the main device inside them (the turbine). As the wind blows, it turns the blades of the turbine, which spin a magnet near a coil of copper wire. The spinning magnet causes the electrons in the coil of wire to move. This generates electricity, which is sent through power lines to where it is needed.

The main parts of a wind turbine include the tower, the frame (also called the nacelle), the turbine blades and the generator. A number of other parts are required to deliver electricity, including inverters, cables, batteries and charge controllers.

The energy produced by a wind turbine varies according to the speed of the wind, the elevation, the air temperature and the diameter of the spinning rotor on the turbine. When winds are at 33 mph, most turbines operate most efficiently and are able to generate the most electricity. The estimated daily output of a 1.8-megawatt (MW) wind turbine is roughly 13,000 kilowatt hours (kWh). A kilowatt hour equals one kilowatt of electricity used for one hour.

Wind turbines do not store power. Electricity generated by utility-scale wind turbines is sent to the electric transmission system, where it displaces electricity that would otherwise have been generated by more traditional sources such as coal, oil, nuclear power and natural gas.

Many companies are researching methods of storing wind energy in batteries. Some of these batteries are the size of a school bus! Some companies are experimenting with storing energy in a giant flywheel—a device that stores energy by spinning—that weighs over a ton and spins faster than the speed of light. During high winds (greater than 50 mph), wind turbines will automatically shut down to protect against damage.

Is it true if you put a battery in the refrigerator it lasts longer?
How do batteries last longer when you put them in the refrigerator?
If you put a car battery in the freezer will it last longer too?

Answer: Putting batteries in the freezer is not advised because freezing temperatures might negatively affect the chemical processes in the battery. However, it is true that storing a battery in the refrigerator can increase its shelf life. Inside a battery there are chemicals that react in order to produce electricity. When cooled, the chemical reactions slow down, thus slowing down the processes by which a battery runs out of juice.

How much electricity is in an AA battery?

Answer: AA batteries typically supply 1.5 volts of electricity.

If I get shocked what do the atoms do when they go in the floor?

Answer: Electricity is a form of energy carried by the movement of electrons, which orbit the centers of atoms. So it is an interesting question to wonder what happens to the current, or rather, the electrons of the atoms involved in the current, after they pass through someone’s body. Because all electricity is looking to get to the ground, the electrons involved would flow through your body into the floor and then into the ground, where they would get discharged. This is because the Earth, composed of many minerals and metals, is a giant capacitor, which means it can take a lot of electrical charge and neutralize it.

Why does my power go out when there is a lot of snow on it?

Answer: Heavy snowfall that accumulates on power lines can bring the lines down due to the snow’s weight. When the lines go down, the power is likely to be interrupted.

How does the electricity get into an outlet?

Answer: From a power plant, electricity is sent to a transformer that boosts the voltage so that it can travel long distances over power lines more efficiently. (Voltage is a measure of the force with which the electricity is “pushed” through the lines.) The electricity then travels along thick, high-voltage transmission cables made of copper or aluminum. When these high-voltage lines approach neighborhoods, transformers along the power lines’ path decrease the voltage to levels that are safe for use in homes, schools, and other buildings. Electricity travels at lower voltages along service drop lines that connect into houses, and then along wires inside the walls to outlets.

How does electricity kill us?

Answer: The current of high-voltage electricity from power lines could burn you from the inside out if you contact it. It could also blast you clear of the circuit it's running on, and the resulting shock or fall could kill you. That's why it's so important to educate yourself about all the ways to practice caution around electricity. You can do this by reading the Electrical Safety-SMART! section of this site at

Is artificial light bad for you?

Answer: Like many things, excess artificial light can be bad for you. Used at night, artificial lights decrease our body’s levels of melatonin—a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, usually from about 9 P.M. to 8 A.M., depending on your sleep patterns. Melatonin is important to our physical health because it controls our daily body clock or circadian rhythm. When the timing or intensity of our natural melatonin release is disrupted by the use of artificial lights, it can affect our ability to sleep, our ability to think and concentrate, our hormone cycles, and the regulation of blood pressure and glucose levels.

How do you create a circuit and how do you get electricity in it?

Answer: A circuit is a continuous loop through which electricity can flow. In order to get electricity moving in a circuit, a power source is needed. On a large scale, this would be a power plant; on a small scale, this can be a battery. You can create your own electrical circuit using a battery, wires and a small light bulb by following the steps on this website at this link:

How are magnets able to connect without touching?

Answer: Sometimes when you hold one magnet near another, it seems as if the magnets have a strange connection. You can feel them pull toward each other or push apart. The magnets themselves are not touching; it is the magnetic fields surrounding them that are interacting. A magnetic field is created by the activity of a magnet’s electrons as they move around outside of the nuclei of the atoms to which they belong. Electrons that aren’t paired with other electrons in certain ways have the strongest influence on creating magnetic fields. A lot of unpaired electrons moving in the same direction results in a strong magnetic field around the magnet, and explains how magnets can “connect” without touching.

Why are atoms in everything?

Answer: Atoms are the basic building blocks of matter. When they join together, they form molecules, which make up most of the things around you. Today, most of the matter in the universe is composed of hydrogen atoms. Scientists believe that these atoms were created through physical processes that took place billions of years ago, early in the life of the universe.

How does electricity work?

Answer: Electricity starts with atoms, the tiny particles that make up everything around us. Even tinier particles called electrons orbit the centers of atoms. Electrons moving from atom to atom create the force we call electricity. The racing of many electrons from atom to atom in one direction is called electric current. When you put a plug into an electrical outlet, you are tapping into that electric current. Electricity typically is produced at power plants, where energy sources such as coal or natural gas are used to turn turbines. The turbines spin 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.

Why does the power sometimes go out at my house?

Answer: I can't say for sure exactly why the power goes out at your house, but I can tell you that most power outages are weather-related. Winds, heavy snow, or thick ice can break power lines or bring tree limbs into contact with lines, and lightning can strike power lines or other electrical equipment. When this happens, the electricity may shut off to prevent a fire or shock hazard until the equipment can be repaired. Other, less common causes of outages include wildlife such as squirrels, raccoons, or large birds contacting power lines; motor vehicles hitting power poles; and cranes or excavating equipment contacting power lines overhead or underground. Lastly, sometimes the electricity must be shut off for equipment repairs or maintenance to occur safely; this usually is scheduled in advance with notice given to the customers who will be affected.

Are you very smart?

Answer: I work for the e-SMARTkids website, so of course I am! I'm particularly smart about using electricity and natural gas safely and responsibly. I hope you will use what you learn on this website to be smart about electricity and natural gas, too!

Why do poisonous plants hurt you?

Answer: My specialty is energy science and safety, so I recommend that you look elsewhere for the answer to this question!

Is light good for you?

Answer: The sun's rays are our primary source of light, and yes, light is good for us! Our bodies need some sunlight every day to produce healthy amounts of vitamin D. Lack of sunlight can affect people's moods; so during the winter when the days are shorter, some people use special "full-spectrum" electric lights (which simulate sunlight) to prevent or treat depression. These and other types of electric lights also can be used to treat skin problems and sleep disorders. It's good to remember that overexposure to the sun's rays can be harmful, however. That's why people use sunscreen, to protect from skin cancer and other harmful effects of too much sun.

What are some of the things you have to do to save energy?

Answer: There are many things you and your family can do to save energy. These include choosing modes of transportation that use less fuel like biking and walking when possible, turning off lights and video or computer equipment when not in use, keeping your heat set to 68°F in winter, taking 5-minute showers, washing full loads of laundry and dishes, hanging laundry to dry, recycling, and replacing incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs. For more ideas, check out the Energy-SMART! section of this website at

Why aren't there stricter laws about pollution?

Answer: The United States has some of the strictest environmental laws in the world. In addition, Wisconsin has many laws and regulations to benefit the environment and the people who live here. Some of the most important environmental laws to reduce pollution in the United States were first passed in the 1970s. This year at We Energies, we are completing a number of air quality control projects to reduce our emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury by more than 75% compared to levels in 2000. (Both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides contribute to acid rain, deposit fine particles in the air, and affect visibility. Nitrogen oxides also contribute to ozone.)

How is an energy-saving light bulb different than a regular one?

Answer: A regular (incandescent) bulb produces light by running electricity through a filament and heating it to a very high temperature so it glows and creates light. These bulbs are highly inefficient, because 98% of the energy they produce is emitted as heat. The typical lifetime of a regular bulb is about 1,000 hours. A compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb contains gases (argon and mercury vapor) that produce invisible ultraviolet (UV) light when stimulated by electricity. When the UV light hits the white phosphor coating inside the CFL, the phosphor illuminates or "fluoresces," changing the UV light into visible light. CFLs use about one-fifth the energy of standard incandescent bulbs, and have a lifetime ranging from 1,200 hours to 20,000 hours.

What are some renewable resources?

Answer: Solar power, wind power, hydropower, biomass, tidal power, and geothermal energy are all renewable energy sources that are being used as alternatives to fossil fuels. Wisconsin hosts several wind energy facilities, and We Energies is constructing a biomass-fueled cogeneration power plant at Domtar Corporation's paper mill site in Rothschild. You can learn more about all types of renewable energy by exploring the Energy-SMART section of this website.

How does weather affect your business? Has the recent warm weather been good or bad for energy use?

Answer: The weather affects all utilities that sell electricity and natural gas. When it’s warmer than normal in the winter (like this year), there is less demand for (or use of) natural gas to heat homes and businesses. When it’s cooler than normal in the summer, there’s less demand for electricity to run air conditioners. Lower demand usually means lower sales and lower income for utilities. On the other hand, when it’s colder than normal in the winter and hotter than normal in the summer, the result is flipped: higher demand, sales, and income. The warm weather in January, February, and March 2012 lowered use of natural gas by homeowners by nearly 24%; electricity use fell by more than 4%.

Why don't birds burn up on power lines?

Answer: Birds can sit on power lines and not get burned because electricity is always looking for a way to get to the ground. Since the birds are sitting on the power line and are not touching the ground or anything in contact with the ground, the electricity stays in the 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 reach the ground, and the bird 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 will electrocute it.

Who started We Energies Company?

Answer: We Energies is the trade name of Wisconsin Electric Power Company and Wisconsin Gas LLC, the principal utility subsidiaries of Wisconsin Energy Corporation (WEC). Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, We Energies serves more than 1.1 million electric customers in Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and more than 1 million natural gas customers in Wisconsin. The company that eventually became We Energies originally was formed in 1896 as The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co., and provided electric, steam and interurban rail service. William Nelson Cromwell was its first president.

What crops does Wisconsin grow that are used for biofuels?

Answer: Wisconsin is one of the forerunners in the country in biomass development, with research being done at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Currently, corn is the only crop grown in Wisconsin that is used for widespread commercial production of the biofuel ethanol. However, soybeans, sunflowers and a few other seed crops are being used to produce biofuel on a smaller scale. Researchers also are exploring the use of switch grass or wood waste as biofuel crops, but more work is required to develop the technology to convert the tough fibers of these materials into fuels. All of these are primarily used as transportation fuels.

Wisconsin also is a leader in the use of biomass for electricity generation. The primary biomass fuels for electricity generation are wood fuels and agricultural waste. As the "dairy state", Wisconsin has many dairy farms that use cow manure as a fuel to produce methane which is used to generate electricity, heat water for use in the dairy, and produce both fertilizer for the farm and bedding for the dairy cows. The cow manure is collected and placed in an anaerobic digester, which uses tiny microbes to break down the manure into methane gas and digested solids. The methane gas is used as a fuel to generate electricity and heat and the digested solids are dried and the liquid can be used as a fertilizer and the remaining dried solids can be used as bedding for the dairy cows.

Wisconsin’s abundant forest lands are an excellent renewable resource for wood fuel. Although the state’s forest crop is mostly used to make paper and other wood products, biomass, including forest residue (branches, tree tops and bark left after logging) and wood waste (shavings or chips from the wood products industry), also can be used to generate electricity. We Energies currently is building a 50-megawatt biomass cogeneration facility in Rothschild, Wisconsin. When the facility is complete in 2013, it will burn biomass to generate electricity for our customers and steam for the nearby Domtar paper mill. Learn more at

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. (Flecks of orange in your gas flames are OK, but if the flame is yellow, large, and flickering, the appliance may need a safety adjustment by a qualified repair person.)

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

Answer: Organic waste emits methane as it decomposes—or rots—in a 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.

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.

What’s the difference between global warming and the greenhouse effect?

Answer: The greenhouse effect is created because certain gases sent into our atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, allow radiation from the sun to pass through the earth's atmosphere, but prevent a portion of the infrared radiation from the earth's surface and lower atmosphere from escaping into outer space. This process occurs naturally; without it our planet's temperatures would be about 60 degrees cooler! Life as we know it simply would not exist without the natural greenhouse effect. However, many scientists believe global warming is happening because the greenhouse effect has become intensified by human activities: These activities (primarily the burning of fossil fuels) add more carbon dioxide and other gases to the atmosphere and accelerate the earth's natural warming process.

What kind of a difference does it really make to replace a regular light bulb with an energy-saving one?

Answer: Replacing one incandescent light bulb with an energy-saving compact fluorescent bulb prevents about 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted to the atmosphere from power plants, and saves about $67 dollars in energy costs over the bulb's lifetime.