Review of Energy Units


Review of Energy Units

Before going ahead, we need to make sure we all have a clear picture of the various units we use to measure energy.

Joule — the joule (J) is the basic unit of energy, work done, or heat in the SI system of units; it is defined as the amount of energy, or work done, in applying a force of one Newton over a distance of one meter. One way to think of this is as the energy needed to lift a small apple (about 100 g) one meter. An average person gives off about 60 J per second in the form of heat. We are going to be talking about very large amounts of energy, so we need to know about some terms that are used to describe larger sums of energy:

Exponential notation Scientific Notation Abbreviation Unit name
103J 1e3 J kJ kilojoule
106J 1e6 J MJ megajoule
109J 1e9 J GJ gigajoule
1012J 1e12 J TJ terajoule
1015J 1e15 J PJ petajoule
1018J 1e18 J EJ exajoule
1021J 1e21 J ZJ zettajoule
1024J 1e24 J YJ yottajoule

In recent years, we humans have consumed about 518 EJ of energy per year, which is something like 74 GJ per person per year.

British Thermal Unit— the btu is another unit of energy that you might run into. One btu is the amount of energy needed to warm one pound of water one °F. One btu is equal to about 1055 joules of energy. Oddly, some branches of our government still use the btu as a measure of energy.

Watt— the watt (W) is a measure of power and is closely related to the Joule; it is the rate of energy flow, or joules/second. For instance, a 40 W light bulb uses 40 joules of energy per second, and the average sunlight on the surface of Earth delivers 343 W over every square meter of the surface.

Kilowatt hours— when you (or you parents maybe for now) pay the electric bill each month, you get charged according to how much energy you used, and they express this in the form of kilowatt hours — kWh. If you use 1000 Watts for one hour, then you have used one kWh. This is really a unit of energy, not power:

1[kWh]=1000[W]×1[hr]=1000[ J s ]×3600[s]=3,600,000[J] MathType@MTEF@5@5@+=faaagCart1ev2aaaKnaaaaWenf2ys9wBH5garuavP1wzZbqedmvETj2BSbqefm0B1jxALjharqqtubsr4rNCHbGeaGqiVu0Je9sqqrpepC0xbbL8FesqqrFfpeea0xe9Lq=Jc9vqaqpepm0xbba9pwe9Q8fs0=yqaqpepae9pg0FirpepeKkFr0xfr=xfr=xb9Gqpi0dc9adbaqaaeGaciGaaiaabeqaamaabaabaaGcbaGaaeymaiaabUfacaqGRbGaae4vaiaabIgacaqGDbGaaeypaiaabgdacaqGWaGaaeimaiaabcdacaqGBbGaae4vaiaab2facqGHxdaTcaqGXaGaae4waiaabIgacaqGYbGaaeyxaiaab2dacaqGXaGaaeimaiaabcdacaqGWaWaamWaaeaadaWcaaqaaiaadQeaaeaacaWGZbaaaaGaay5waiaaw2faaiabgEna0kaabodacaqG2aGaaeimaiaabcdacaqGBbGaae4Caiaab2facaqG9aGaae4maiaabYcacaqG2aGaaeimaiaabcdacaqGSaGaaeimaiaabcdacaqGWaGaae4waiaabQeacaqGDbaaaa@5859@

In other words, one kilowatt hour is 1000 joules per second (kW) summed up over one hour (3600 seconds), which is the same as 3.6 MJ or 3.6 x 106J or 3.6e6 J.