This is the first in a series of five emails filled with useful information for new solar owners. Hopefully, you will find answers to some questions you might not have known you had. And as always, you can give us a call if you have further questions.
What is power?
There are many ways in which people choose to measure things: miles or kilometers, Fahrenheit or Celsius, yards or meters, and watts or kilowatts. While translating some of these measurements can be somewhat difficult to understand, it can be argued that the most confusing units of measurement have to do with our energy consumption. This can be problematic, since these units of energy are tied directly into something that affects us every day: our power bills.
So once and for all, we’re going to help you finally understand just what’s going on with your power bill, by understanding what it is that the utility companies are measuring.
Let’s start at the top.
Power is the rate at which energy is generated or used. This can also be translated as the rate that energy is transformed from one state into another (since that’s what really happens,) but for our purposes the rate at which energy is generated or used will work just fine.
Don’t worry, we aren’t going to go into the depths of power transfer rates; we’re just sticking to the basics. Simply put, we have to be able to measure power for a couple of reasons:
- We need to know how much power our tools, equipment, and buildings need to function properly, and…
- We need to know how much power we are going to need for those things to operate over periods of time.
Things that “generate power” like boilers, electricity generators, wind turbines, and solar panels transform energy from one form to another. However, all of these items have different limitations — like fuel, weather, or even the amount of time they are exposed to the sun.
Things that “use power” are the multitudes of electrical equipment, from light bulbs to computers, that take energy in the form of electricity and use it to do useful things for us.
The rate at which these things use energy for their power can be more complicated in some equipment than others. Consider a computer: depending on what it’s doing it can use very little power, or quite a bit — especially if it’s being used to play graphic-intense video games or taking on multiple functions at once.
To measure things that either generate or use power, there are many different units of measurement, most of which are used in a laboratory. However, for those of us not wearing a lab coat or sitting at an engineering station, we’ll use a simplified unit of measurement: the watt.
Keep your eye on part two of the series: “Watt’s the Big Deal?” We will do our best to teach you about watts, and how they affect your pocketbook.