So you look at a light bulb and it says “100 Watts.” What the hell does that mean? What the Heck is the Difference Between a Kilowatt and a Kilowatt-hour?
Your power company charges your for “Kilowatt-hours” that you use… What the hell is a Kilowatt-hour?!
For starters, a Kilowatt (kW) is just one thousand watts, just like a megawatt (mW) is one million watts. A “watt” (W) is a measurement of POWER. To be precise it’s using one joule per second. However, since no one has uttered the word “joule” since that physics class they took fifteen years ago, we use watts instead of Joules per second, because they’re printed on light bulbs and people have an idea of what they mean. To put it in perspective, a car engine cruising uses about 25,000 watts, which is about 30 horsepower.
But that’s a car… Mechanical energy. We want to talk about electricity since we’re concerned with solar power. With electricity, POWER is voltage time amperage. Or 1watt = 1volt * 1ampere.
A good way to think about electricity is that it’s a lot like water. Voltage is the pushing, or the pressure, and amperage is the flow. A dammed up lake, although it has a hell of a lot of pressure (voltage), doesn’t flow anywhere (zero amperage) so there’s no power (lots of volts * zero amps = zero watts). On the other hand take a super soaker water gun. Super fast stream (lots of amps) but a tiny little compressed reservoir (not a lot of volts). I wouldn’t go so far as to call that “powerful.” Finally, look at a rushing river. Lots of volts, lots of amps, huge power. So wait, Dave, you got off subject, we’re talking about Watts here…
Oh yah, Watts. Ok, so a Watt is energy burned per second. If you flick on a 100 Watt light bulb it’s eating up 100 Joules of energy every second (interestingly, a standard candle is exactly 1 Watt). So now what’s a watt-hour (wH)? Well, don’t get confused when you see a confusing or seemingly incorrect usage of watt or watt-hour in mass media. The two terms are often interchanged and misused.
“Watts per hour” doesn’t make sense because it’s already a measurement of “joules per second.” Does “Joules per second per hour” make sense? No. A Watt-hour is what your power company uses to charge you, and it’s a way of removing the “per second” from Watts. So now instead of talking about Joules per unit of time, you’re just talking about Joules period…. but we call them Watt-hours because no one knows what the hell a “joule” is.
Think of Watts as the speed you’re running and Watt-hours as how far you’ve actually run. A kilowatt-hour is the amount of energy equivalent to a power of 1 kilowatt running for 1 hour. If you leave a 100 Watt light bulb on for 1 hour, you’ve done gone and used up 100 watt-hours.
But your electric company will bill you by the kilowatt-hour, so you’ll get a bill for .1 kWh, multiplied by your per-kWh rate. That means if you run a 100 watt bulb for an hour a day for 30 days in a month, and you pay $.10/kWh, your bill will be for .1 kWh x 30 days x $.10, or $.30.
Ok, I feel like I’ve made that explanation 100 times longer than it should have been. Hope that helped.
By Dave Llorens
Last modified: July 27, 2016