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What are the cons of fossil fuels?
—Irma

Answer: Fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) are considered nonrenewable energy sources. This means that once they are all used up, they are gone forever. This is one of the cons of fossil fuels, as during this century these fuel sources are becoming less plentiful. Another con is that burning fossil fuels contributes carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which many scientists believe is a major contributor to climate change.

What is energy?
—Allison

Answer: Energy is the ability to do work. Humans eat food for the energy we need to grow, move, and perform our work. Plants use the energy of the sun to grow and bear fruits, flowers, and vegetables. Machines use energy derived from fossil fuels and renewable resources (like sun, wind, moving water, and biomass) to perform the various functions they are designed to do. So in all cases, energy allows things, both living and nonliving, to do work.

What is a way people can save nuclear energy?
—Elisha

Answer: Nuclear energy is used to generate electricity, so people can save nuclear energy the same way they save other forms of energy: by developing habits that use less electricity at home or school, or by using electrical devices that are energy-efficient. For specific ideas on how you can save electricity at home, check out the Home Energy Inspection on this site.

What are some ways heat is lost in the house?
—Jules

Answer: There are many ways that heat can be lost in a house, such as through improperly sealed windows and doors; poorly insulated attics and basements; and gaps around baseboards or flooring edges, plumbing vents, electrical wall outlets, and switches. If you’re interested in learning how to better seal and insulate your home so that heating and cooling energy isn’t wasted, check out this link at ENERGY STAR®: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_sealing.

Why isn’t solar or wind energy available to be part of the “grid”?
—Amy

Answer: Wind energy is very much a part of MidAmerican Energy Company’s offerings on the “grid,” making up approximately 30% of our generating capacity. MidAmerican Energy has been installing wind turbines since 2004, and is number one in the nation in wind-powered capacity among rate-regulated utilities. Iowa has a greater wind resource than solar resource, so the focus in Iowa has been on wind energy. MidAmerican Energy currently has 1,267 wind turbines, all in Iowa. Sister companies in other states have greater solar resources and utilize solar energy on the grid as part of their balanced energy portfolio.

Some small businesses or homeowners choose to install solar panels or wind turbines that are “off-grid” and connected to batteries. The majority of renewable energy systems are connected to the grid.

How is most of the electricity in the world generated?
—Anahi

Answer: Most of the electricity used in the world is generated at power plants that rely on coal. Natural gas is the second most commonly used energy source, closely followed by hydropower and nuclear power. These energy sources are used at power plants to turn turbines. The turbines turn electromagnets that are surrounded by heavy coils of copper wire. The moving magnets cause the electrons in the copper wire to move from atom to atom, generating electricity.

What do you call it when there is a circuit, but electricity is not flowing through it?
—Veronica

Answer: A circuit that does not allow electricity to flow through it is called an open circuit. A circuit must be a closed path for electricity to flow through it; if it is open, electricity will not flow through it. This is the principle behind a common switch, which closes the circuit to turn a light or appliance on, and opens it to stop the electricity from flowing and turn it off.

I've heard that saving water also saves energy. How is that?
—Felicia

Answer: It takes energy to heat water used for showers and for washing dishes and clothes. So when you use less hot water, you use less energy. It also takes energy to run water treatment plants and to pump water to homes and buildings, so saving water reduces that energy use as well.

What is a therm?
—Rainie

Answer: If your family uses natural gas, your monthly bill may show your natural gas usage in therms. Or, your bill may show your gas usage in CCFs, which is 100 cubic feet and roughly equivalent to one therm. A therm is a unit for measuring the amount of heat that equals 100,000 British thermal units (BTU). A BTU is the amount of energy needed to raise by one degree the temperature of a pound of liquid water at 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

How is electricity produced in power plants?
—Bonnie, Sheri, and Tracy

Answer: In power plants various energy sources, such as fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) or renewable energy sources (such as water, the sun, wind, biomass or geothermal) are used to turn turbines. The turbines turn electromagnets that are surrounded by heavy coils of copper wire. The moving magnets cause the electrons in the copper wire to move from atom to atom, generating electricity. To learn more, visit MidAmerican Energy’s coal plant, combustion-fueled power plant, and hydroelectric plant.

How does wind energy work?
—Lisa

Answer: Wind power starts with the sun. When the sun heats air close to the ground, the warm air rises. Wind is created when cooler air rushes into the empty space left by the rising warm air. When the blades of a wind turbine capture wind energy and start moving, they spin a shaft (long rod) that connects to the hub of the wind turbine. The energy of the spinning shaft is transferred to an electrical generator. The generator produces electricity by spinning a magnet inside a coil of wires. When the magnet turns, it pushes electrons through the wires and generates electricity. Visit MidAmerican Energy's wind energy facility virtual tour for more information.

Why do I need to unplug my cellphone charger?
—Stef

Answer: Cellphone chargers are known as energy vampires because they draw energy by remaining plugged in when phones are already charged or not even connected to them. In fact, only 5 percent of the power drawn by a cellphone charger is used to charge the phone. The other 95 percent is wasted when it is left plugged into the wall! To stop this energy waste, get yourself (and your family) in the habit of unplugging cellphone, iPod and other chargers after you use them.

Why does it matter if we unplug some of our small appliances when they are not in use?
—Autry

Answer: Many appliances (such as cell phone chargers, TVs, microwaves, and computers) use energy in standby mode, even when you aren't using them. To save energy at home, get in the habit of unplugging your small appliances when not in use, or else plug them into a power strip so you can shut off the flow of current to several items at once.

Is it true that cars could someday run on cow manure?
—Tyler

Answer: Yes! Manure can be made into a gas containing methane. (Methane is the same energy-rich gas found in natural gas.) Certain types of bacteria emit this gas as they consume manure inside sealed, airless tanks. The mixture of gases produced in this way, called biogas, can be used in some modified car engines instead of gasoline, or burned in boilers to generate heat or electricity.

I have heard that landfills can be a source of energy. How does that work?
—Zachary

Answer: Just like manure, other types of organic waste emit methane as they decompose—or rot—in the landfill. Landfills can collect and treat the methane and then sell it as a commercial fuel, or they can burn it to generate steam and electricity. Today, there are almost 400 gas energy landfill projects operating in the United States.

Why is it important for people in the United States to save energy? Aren't we just a relatively small part of a large planet?
—Joshie

Answer: Although Americans make up only 5 percent of the world’s population, we use about 25 percent of the world’s energy! And we consume about 15 times more energy per person than does a citizen of a typical third world country.

What’s the difference between global warming and the greenhouse effect?
—Nolan

Answer: The greenhouse effect is created because certain gases sent into our atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, allow radiation from the sun to pass through the earth’s atmosphere, but prevent a portion of the infrared radiation from the earth’s surface and lower atmosphere from escaping into outer space. This process occurs naturally; without it our planet’s temperatures would be about 60 degrees cooler! Life as we know it simply would not exist without the natural greenhouse effect. However, many scientists believe global warming is happening because the greenhouse effect has become intensified by human activities: These activities (primarily the burning of fossil fuels) add more carbon dioxide and other gases to the atmosphere and accelerate the earth’s natural warming process.