What happens when you short out an electrical outlet?

when you short out an electrical outlet and electricity is free to go from negative to neutral, thats wasting power, but where does it go? what about conservation of energy? if its just going across the short and there isnt any resistance whats happening to all the power thats going through the short?

5 thoughts on “What happens when you short out an electrical outlet?

  1. gintable

    It is all dissipated as heat in that short wire, due to the excessive current that flows due to the voltage.

    Being dissipated as heat is what melts the wire, can melt the insulation, and can melt the entire circuitry of wire and can possibly burn the building down.

    That is…unless the circuit breaker will trip to save the day.
    “and there isnt any resistance”

    That is where you are wrong.

    All practical materials have finite non-zero resistivity of some form or another. The resistance is just so small that literally RESISTANCE IS FUTILE, if less than one ohm.
    If hypothetically you do remove all resistance somehow (perhaps via the phenomena known as superconductivity that has yet to make it to practical power transmission systems)….

    Then, what happens is that you accelerate the charges indefinately, ever speeding them up.

    Due to the fact that the transmission line has a lot of inductance, there effectively is plently of “electromangetic inertia” to limit the rate of current response.

    Short circuiting a conduction-perfect circuit is just like letting a mass fall friction free.

    While yes there is plenty of force or voltage…there is also enough of a reactive property of the system, that it doesn’t accelerate instantly to the speed of light.

    But, in all practical distribution systems, resistance effects of short circuiting are usually A LOT more significant than inductive effects.

  2. dmb06851

    The short circuit will cause an extremely high current to flow. That will cause the circuit breaker, or fuse – depending upon which is fitted, to open the circuit.

    The current flows between line (or “live”) and neutral – there’s no negative or positive in a.c.

  3. Allesfresser

    When you connect the live end of the AC outlet to the neutral one the amount of electrons passing through the cable will be vastly high and that means high current. Conductors such as copper are not perfect ones. What happens is the electrons will be accelerated in the potential field and start “flowing” through the electrical wire. However copper has a certain resistance and high currents will start heating the cable. So the energy is conserved. The electrons will accelerate in the potential field within the cable and lose some of their energy during the period because of the resistance and their kinetic energy will be converted to heat energy.

    What happens with superconductors is a little bit different. The most important point is that when a material is superconducting it has virtually no resistance which cancels out the heating problem. However potential fields in a superconductor is a whole different thing.

  4. Steven

    The source has a resistance albeit small as possible. In fact a safe circuit must have low enough resistance so that the short current exceed the protection device trip point. So for an instant, the surge current heats up your wiring, until the breaker or fuse blows.

  5. J. Frost

    You are right it is wasting power. Remember though that all the wiring from the power companies tranformer to your electrical outlet has resistance. When current flows in resistance, electrical energy is converted to heat. All the wiring in the circuit will disipate energy as heat and get hot. Dont try it though, the current through the short circuit is very high, it might be many hundreds of amps. Needless to say, you could start a fire, or worse a fire you dont realise, like in the wiring inside the wall…

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