Ask an Expert about Electricity & Natural Gas

 

Have you ever wondered why shoes hanging on a power line don’t get fried? Or why natural gas flames are blue? Now you can get answers to these and all your energy-related questions. Just Ask an Expert!

The Expert answers new questions regularly, so check back to see if YOUR
question is up!

Click Here to Ask a New Question


Click on a question below to see the answer:

NEW! How do people get electricity from the wind when it’s not blowing?
—Sarah

Answer: As you’re most likely aware, Sarah, wind turbines use blades to collect the wind’s kinetic energy, which causes the blades to turn and produce electricity. It only takes a slight breeze to turn a wind turbine. These turbines sit on tall towers, from 200 to 400 feet in height, precisely so that their blades are exposed to a layer of moving air — the wind blows faster and more often high above the ground.

But you’re right that sometimes there is no wind, so in that case, electric utilities team up wind farms with other types of energy in order to produce a constant supply of energy. Hydroelectric energy, or dams, can hold off on releasing water on windy days and save it for times when the wind turbines are not producing. In some places, solar panels produce electricity when it’s hot and the wind isn’t very strong. Excess energy from wind power can also be stored in batteries for later use. If you’d like to learn more about how much electricity is provided by CPS from wind power, check out Emily’s question below.

NEW! How do you get solar energy when the sun isn't out?
—Sarah

Answer: Good question! To address this issue, some solar energy systems have a backup battery to store excess energy for use when the sun is not shining. Systems without batteries will have to use a different energy source and will often draw power from the electricity grid when the sun isn’t out. Soon there may be a third way for solar energy systems to provide power in the absence of sunshine, as researchers have developed a solar cell that can produce electricity at night! The technology uses a thermoelectric generator to draw electricity from the difference in temperature between the surrounding air and the solar cell itself.

What is the difference between a switch and a breaker in a substation?
—Stephan

Answer: You sound like a future engineer, Stephan, or perhaps an electrician! This is a good question for both of those occupations. Before I answer it, I would like to explain the terms substation, switch, and breaker:

  • A substation is part of the electrical grid that brings electricity to your home and school. Electricity travels to and from substations over power lines. Within a substation, transformers convert electrical voltage from high to low, or the reverse.
  • A switch is used to disconnect or isolate all or part of an electrical circuit in a substation. Switches may be used to disconnect a portion of a circuit for maintenance purposes.
  • A breaker (also known as a circuit breaker) is a protective device used to control the flow of electrical current, much like a fuse. It breaks the circuit in case of hazardous conditions and overloads.

The main difference between a switch and a breaker in a substation is that a switch is typically operated manually, and a breaker can be operated automatically, manually, or by remote control.

What percent of electricity provided by CPS is from solar and wind power?
—Emily

Answer: Glad you asked, Emily! CPS Energy, through power purchase agreements with operators from across the country, has 13 solar farms generating 497 megawatts of renewable solar power – the most in Texas. These solar farms are located in and around the San Antonio area, and regionally in communities like Uvalde and Brackettville. Solar energy makes up 7.4% of our generating capacity.

Additionally, we are among the largest municipal wind buyers in the nation. Through power purchase agreements, we currently have 1066 megawatts (MW) of wind-generated electricity in commercial operation. Wind energy makes up 14.5% of our generating capacity. Most of our wind power comes from a number of wind farms in West Texas and along the Texas coast. Together, these wind farms are capable of generating electricity for roughly 213,200 homes.

What temp should I keep my heater at during the winter to save on my bill and stay warm?
—Victoria

Answer: For best energy savings during cold weather, set your thermostat between 68 and 70 degrees when you’re at home, and much lower at night and when you are away. If you are chilly around the house, wear more layers. And for best energy savings, use a programmable thermostat.

Do you have a list of recommended solar power providers?
—Mike

Answer: Mike, thanks for your inquiry! To see the most recent listing of solar contractors who have registered with CPS Energy under the guidelines of our Solar Rebate program, click here.

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?
—Will

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?
—Evan

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.)

Do electric eels really create electricity?
—Elena

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?
—Sela

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.