Ask the Superexpert 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 the Superexpert!

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

The very first energy source on earth was the sun, providing heat and light. Later, a lightning strike sparked a fire. Fire was then used by early humans for many things, including keeping warm, cooking food, and drying their wooly mammoth blankets and clothing. Since then, we’ve progressed to where we are today, using a combination of fossil fuels and renewable energy sources, such as solar power—which brings us full circle, back to the sun! Who knows where the next type of energy will originate. Perhaps with you?

Electricity can kill you if you come into physical contact with it by stopping your heart and interfering with your breathing. It can also kill you by causing burns where it enters and leaves your body on its way to the ground and damaging nerves and internal organs. This is why it’s so important to stay away from power lines and learn how to use electrical appliances and power cords safely. Learn more about how to stay safe around electricity in our Electrical Safety SMART module on this site.

You might have heard that you can easily make a battery using household materials, such as a lemon or an apple. I’m sorry to disappoint you, Harper, but while lemons work better than apples for this, neither fruit will generate enough electrical current to charge a TV or a tablet. Here’s how to make a lemon battery:

Supplies you need:

  • A fresh, large, juicy lemon
  • A galvanized nail that is coated in zinc
  • A copper penny
  • A strip of aluminum foil


  1. Make a cut on one side of the lemon.
  2. Push the copper penny inside, making sure half of the penny shows.
  3. Make another cut on the other side of the lemon.
  4. Push the nail inside, but make sure the nail and the coin do not touch.

Ta da! You have made a single-cell battery! Your battery can generate electricity but will only do so when the penny and the nail are connected with something that conducts electricity. You can attach the aluminum foil strip between the penny and the nail. As soon as the aluminum foil touches the penny and the nail, electricity will flow through the foil. Note: The amount of electricity generated by this homemade battery is safe, and you will even be able to test it by touching your finger to the foil and feeling the weak current. Higher voltages of electricity, however, can be very dangerous and even deadly; you should not experiment with commercial batteries or wall outlets.

The sun is a star. When a star explodes, it’s called a supernova, and it bursts like a popping balloon. You don’t have to worry, though – only stars 10 times the size of our sun, or bigger, can explode like this. When our sun dies, it will happen slowly, like when you gradually let the air out of a balloon. But again, you don’t have to worry, because scientists estimate that the sun won’t start to die until it runs out of fuel in about (take a breath and repeat after me) 5,000,000,000 years! That’s 5 BILLION years – a very, very, very loooooong time. So keep using your sunscreen, and stay safe!

Would you be surprised, Lily, to learn that the sun is not yellow or orange? It’s actually white. The reason the sun appears yellow during the day, or orange to red at sunrise and sunset, is because we view it through the filter of the atmosphere. The atmosphere changes the apparent color of the sun by scattering light. The atmosphere is thicker at sunrise and sunset, and therefore the sun appears more orange and red at these times of day. The atmosphere is thinnest at midday, and that’s when the sun appears closest to its true color white, but still has a yellow tint to it. Smoke and smog can also make the atmosphere thicker, making the sun appear more orange or red.

Electricity is always looking for a way to get to the ground. Small birds can sit safely on one power line: they do not touch anything in contact with the ground, so electricity stays in the power line and does not harm the birds. However, large birds with broad wingspans are more likely to touch a power line and a utility pole at the same time, which can create a path for electricity to travel down the pole to the ground. Their large wings can also bridge two power lines, creating a circuit or a path for electricity. In either situation, the birds can be electrocuted.

Yes! Books that are in contact with a heat-producing electrical appliance could indeed catch fire. Books could also catch fire if left too close to a high-wattage light bulb. So be careful to keep your books, papers, and other flammable materials away from anything that gets hot, including irons, space heaters, toaster ovens, kitchen ranges, and light fixtures.

You can safely use a generator to run an electric space heater, provided you take three important precautions. First and foremost, never use your generator indoors. Generator exhaust contains high levels of carbon monoxide (CO), a deadly gas. To keep CO from entering your home, you must set up your generator outdoors, away from doors, windows, and vents. Second, never try to power your home wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet. Instead, plug the space heater directly into the generator—or, if the heater cord is not long enough, use a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cord. Make sure the extension cord is in good condition and the plug has all three prongs. Last but not least, check the wattage on your space heater and make sure your generator can accommodate it. The manufacturer’s instructions will tell you how much wattage your generator can handle.

Cap rock is the layer of very dense rock above reservoir rock and source rock that keeps underground natural gas from traveling to the surface. For more on this, see the “Older Than Dinosaurs” section in our Natural Gas Safety-SMART module on this site.

Safety is our number one core value. We build and maintain our equipment to ensure that we provide safe and reliable electric service for our customers. Any time you have a safety concern, such as the green boxes you mentioned, please move safely away and call Dominion. We will investigate your concern to determine whether or not the boxes are our equipment, and take any corrective actions that may be needed. Even if the green boxes are not ours, we will ensure that the owner of the equipment is notified and your concern is appropriately addressed.

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