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How long does it take electricity to travel from the generator to my house?

Dear Cecil:

How long does it take for electricity to travel from the generator where it is produced to the light bulb at my house?

Roberto Chevres

Cecil replies:

As is my practice with technical questions, I convened the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board. One honorable member proposed that we figure in the inductance, capacitance, resistance, phase velocity, and for good measure the wind direction, Planck’s constant, and Avogadro’s number. The motion was voted down and its author shot. Another member ventured that “the signal velocity would be the speed of light divided by the square root of the dielectric constant of the insulation.” Jeers from the back benches, author left in tears. Finally a junior member chirped, “Let’s call it one-third the speed of light and adjourn to the refreshments.” Approved by acclamation followed by a rush to the bar. So there you have it. Incidentally, while the juice as a whole moves pretty fast, the individual electrons don’t. This being alternating current, they dance frantically to and fro and never get anywhere. Just like thee and me.

Cecil Adams

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