What is electricity?

Very simply, electricity is the 'flow' of electrons in a conductor. Here’s how it works.

About electrons

All matter is made up of atoms, and atoms are made up of smaller particles, one of which is the electron. Electrons spin around the centre, or nucleus, of atoms. The nucleus is made up of neutrons and protons. Electrons have a negative charge, protons have a positive charge and neutrons are neutral. This means they have neither a positive nor a negative charge.

Creating a current

Some materials have electrons that are loosely attached. They can easily be pushed from one atom to another. When those electrons move between atoms, a charge or 'current' of electricity is created. This is what happens in a piece of wire conducting electricity. The electrons are pushed from atom to atom, creating an electrical current from one end to the other. The electric force that 'pushes' electrons is measured in volts. In New Zealand homes, the average appliance uses 230 volts of electric power.


Electricity flows through some things better than others. How well something conducts electricity is measured by its resistance. Resistance in wire depends on how thick the wire is, how long it is and what it's made of. The lower the resistance of a wire, the better it conducts electricity. Copper is used in many wires because it has a lower resistance than most other metals. The wires in your walls, inside your lamps, and elsewhere are mostly copper