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How Electricity Works

When not respected, electricity can be dangerous, even fatal.

Electricity is such an important part of our daily lives and it has become almost impossible to imagine a world without it.  This about it, a power outage during a heavy storm leaves us in the dark and reminds us of how dependent we are on all that electricity provides us.  Knowing how electricity works and travels will help us understand it as a powerful force, one that can cause serious injury, even death if used without caution.

Electricity’s Physical Properties

Although electricity is invisible, odorless and has no shape or form, the earth’s atmosphere is charged with it.  You see proof of its presence in nature when witnessing a lightening storm.  Though the electricity we use in our daily lives is man-made, it is a phenomenon with absolute characteristics.  Some things to remember:

Electricity always seeks a path to the ground.  All electrical contact accidents occur when a person accidentally becomes part of the electricity pathway to the ground. Making contact with a power line in the ground can be extremely dangerous and even deadly.

Electricity travels at the speed of light.  It is made up of electrons that flow rapidly in a current.  Electrical currents move so fast, in fact that they cover the distance of the world 7.5 times per second.

Electricity is attracted to materials known as “conductors”.  Conductors allow it to flow readily.  Some common conductors include:

  • Water
  • Trees
  • People
  • Metal

Unlike conductors, electricity does not flow easily through insulating materials such as glass, plastic or rubber.

Harnessing the Power

The electricity we use everyday is generated in power plants where energy from several sources in nature are converted into electricity.  For example, plants can generate hydroelectric power from rivers, solar power from the sun, fossil-based energy from coal and even wind based power from wind.

To generate energy from natural sources we use a few basic principals in our power plans, which house generators comprised of large magnets that spin inside coils of wire.  To get the magnets spinning, high pressure steam or water is forced against the generators turbine blades.

As the loops of wire rotate between magnetic poles, a flow of electrons or electric current is produced.  It is then transferred to transmission lines for distribution through a vast power grid.

Playing it safe

Electricity related accidents can occur anywhere and anytime a person or conductor interrupts the flow of the current, providing it a path to the ground.  Most of the time, using common sense and extra caution around electricity will prevent these types of accidents.

Look Up

Most accidents associated with electricity occur when someone comes into contact with overhead power lines. That’s why you must always be aware of your proximity to such lines, especially when lifting or moving tall or long objects such as rain gutters, TV antennas, irrigation pipes and ladders. These types of objects can conduct electricity through your body as it moves towards the ground. Another important tip; never fly kites around power lines.

Call before you dig.

Digging into underground power lines is just as dangerous as coming into contact with an overhead line. While these underground lines are insulated they are not designed to resist a shovel or backhoe blades.  Digging into the underground lines can sever the line, causing expensive damage as well as the problems of interrupted power service.