Frequently asked questions

  • Why do birds sit on wires and not get killed?
    Electric current always wants to find a way to get to the ground but, because birds aren't touching the ground or anything that's in contact with the ground, the electric current won't flow through them
  • How many volts are there in a bolt of lightning?
    About 1,000,000,000 volts!
  • How can some people get struck by lightning but not be killed?
    It is not necessarily the voltage that will kill you, it's the electric current (the continuous flow of electricity).
  • What is static electricity?
    What we commonly call 'static electricity' is a build up of electric charge that can't go anywhere, as it is not connected to an electric circuit or some other means where it can flow to form an electric current. Static electricity is the build up of the charge that can cause high voltages to be created.
  • What voltage is static electricity?
    Between 20,000 and 30,000 volts.
  • What's the highest voltage I can touch without being electrocuted?
    You can't say how few volts will kill because inside your body is a special sort of electric current that activates your heart and other muscles. It also makes your nerves work. Any extra electric charge put into one's body can upset that balance and cause a heart attack. There have been incidents of a child dying as a result of touching a battery with their tongue - don't take risks, treat electricity with respect.
  • Where does electric current come from?
    Electric current is generated in power stations that burn fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), nuclear power stations, wind turbines, hydro-electric power stations, solar panels and biomass.
  • Why do some substations have roofs on them and others don't?
    There are many reasons. The location (rural, housing estate) and type of equipment within the substation.
  • What should I do in a thunderstorm?
    "If thunder roars, go indoors" - because no place outside is safe when lightning is in the area.
  • Why does electric current want to get to the ground?
    It's just the nature of electric current to move from an area of higher voltage to an area of lower voltage, if it is given a path to travel there. The ground is the lowest-voltage area, so, if you give electric current a path to the ground, it will take it, no questions asked! When electricity goes into the ground, the Earth absorbs its energy.
  • Why didn't Benjamin Franklin get electrocuted when he flew a kite in an electrical storm?
    Benjamin 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 actually been struck by lightning, Franklin would have been killed!
  • Can you put a plastic or wooden knife into a toaster?
    No, unless it is turned off at the mains.
  • Can you get electrocuted if you touch metal during a lightning storm?
    No, unless a lightening bolt strikes the metal you are touching.
  • How many volts would kill someone?
    The nerves and muscles in your body rely on very very low levels of electricity to work. Even small amounts of extra electricity can upset the careful balance and could cause a heart attack. There have been reports of a child dying as a result of putting a battery on the tongue! Do not take risks, treat electricity with respect.
  • If pylons are made of metal and metal conducts, why does the electricity not travel from the power line to the pylon?
    Insulators made out of porcelain, glass or resin support the power lines and keep them apart from the metal structure. Insulators do not conduct electric current.
  • Why does the electricity not jump from the substation transformer to the metal substation fence?
    Careful calculations are made to ensure the fences around substations are placed at a safe distance from the live electricity inside. Never poke sticks or anything else through the substation fence.


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