A: This question has an easy answer: the lights turn on instantly because wires are already packed full of movable electrons. So if the battery or generator tries to pull some electrons out of one end of a wire, it has to suck all the electrons forward into the battery, and this creates a current in the entire circuit.

Or, imagine a drive belt with two pulleys. When you turn one pulley, the whole belt moves instantly, and the distant pulley turns too. Yet the belt itself didn’t move very fast. The electrons inside the wires are like the circular drive belt.

Here are other similar questions:

  • When I pull on a chain, why does the far end of the chain start moving instantly?
  • When I push on the end of a long stick, why does the other end of the stick suddenly move?
  • When I blow a puff of air into a long hollow tube, why does air instantly come out of the far end?
  • When I push on the rim of a bicycle wheel, why does the whole wheel start moving?
  • When I turn the roller at one end of a conveyor belt, why does the roller at the other end move too?
  • When I talk, the air just wiggles back and forth. How can sound fly in just ONE direction, outwards from my mouth?
  • When I turn on a garden hose, and the hose was already full of water, why does water squirt out of the far end instantly?

See what’s happening? It’s waves. If you pull on a chain, the chain moves towards you, yet something else is moving away from you very quickly. For chains, this “something” is mechanical energy. The first link in the chain pulls on the second link, which pulls on the third link, etc. Each link moves towards your hand, yet each link delivers energy to a link farther out. Each link moves slowly, but the “wave” moves very fast. This wave is like the electrical energy in a circuit. The links in the metal chain are like the electrons inside a wire. Or in other words, electrical energy is the waves, and electricity is the medium through which the waves flow.

There’s a big problem here. The word “electricity” is the problem. Science books in elementary school correctly teach us that electrons are particles of electricity, and that electric current is a flow of electricity. In other words, they teach that electricity is like the metal part of that chain we yanked upon. Or in a pipe full of tennis balls, the electricity is the balls. But then the books contradict themselves… they also tell us that electricity is… a form of energy that travels almost instantly along the wires! WHAT?! In other words, they tell us that electricity is supposed to be the electrons themselves, and also electricity is supposed to be the wave that moved along the chain of electrons? Well, which is it? If “electricity” is the wave, it can’t be the medium, it cannot be electrons in the wire.

The books are wrong. They’re screwed up. Their authors don’t understand the difference between a wave and its medium. In particular, they don’t understand charge versus energy. They don’t grasp basic electricity at all. They teach that electricity is like air flowing inside a tube, but they also teach us that electricity is like sound waves in a tube. But … sound is not air. No wonder we don’t understand electricity. Yet these authors are being paid to be the experts that our teachers rely upon. The end result is that our teachers don’t understand electricity at all, and it’s because they trust grade-school textbooks which are wrong.

I suspect that nobody wants to fix the books, since all these grade school science books have the same mistake. To fix the error, first the K-6 book publishers would have to be honest and take responsibility for such a huge problem. All the teachers would have to admit that they’re wrong. This hasn’t happened yet. Professional scientists have been complaining about this same problem at least since the 1960s, and still it hasn’t happened yet. But the internet lets us expose the problem for all to see.

Q: When electricity is sent to homes, how does it ‘know’ if no appliances are connected? Does it go back to the generators again?

A: Great question!

(And when you say ‘electricity’ I’ll assume that you mean electrical energy.)

Whenever the electric company sends electromagnetic energy to your home, and when you don’t have any appliances plugged in, something interesting occurs. The energy bounces! It reflects from the open ends of the wires and travels back to the big generators, where it’s automatically used to keep them spinning. Because this occurs, the generators won’t slow down much. And that means the electric company won’t have to burn much fuel at all to keep the giant rotors going. But if you turn on all your lights and run all your appliances, then some of the energy stops bouncing when it gets to your house. The big generators start to slow down, so more fuel must be burned to run the steam turbines which keeps the rotors going at their original speed.

Here is another way to say the same thing:

If you unplug all of your appliances, less energy gets used.

Isn’t this cool? I was fairly amazed to discover how electricity really works. I learned that the above question is not nearly as silly as most educators believe. In truth, those big electric generators can reach out through the wires and feel your appliances. The generators “know” what’s connected. Whenever you plug in a light bulb, the electric company’s generators feel it almost instantly. They feel the extra friction (the electrical friction, not mechanical). Your light bulb uses up some energy, and this means that some of the energy doesn’t get reflected back to the generators. As a result, the generators start to slow down a bit, and more fuel must be burned in order to prevent this. By turning on a light bulb, you can cause a distant nuclear reactor to eat more U-235, or cause a coal-fired boiler to grind up a bit more coal into powder for burning.

On the other hand, when you suddenly turn off a light, you create a “dead end” in the energy system. The energy that was sent to your home starts being reflected back to the big generators, and it makes them spin a tiny bit faster. The electric company must then turn down the fires which run the steam turbines to keep the generators from speeding up. They do this quickly, and the changes in generator speed are extremely tiny.

For more of your electricity questions answered, please visit Amasci.com.

B W Electric has been serving the Southern Illinois area for over 10 years. Our reliable technicians strive to provide the best experience possible for our customers on every service call weither it be electrical or underground locating needs. B W Electric is Southern Illinois Electrician of choice. Please contact us with any electrical needs you may have. Reach out to us at 618-534-5221 or email us at team@bwelectric.co.