Your handy climate pub chat guide to: Power consumption

Emissions from the Ineos oil refinery at Grangemouth in the Firth of Forth, Scotland, UK (Provider: Ashley Cooper ashley@globalwarmingimages.net)
Emissions from the Ineos oil refinery at Grangemouth in the Firth of Forth, Scotland, UK (Provider: Ashley Cooper [email protected])

Climate change is a dense and controversial topic, but we’re going to distil some of the key parts down to something simple, readable and digestible. If the topic comes up in conversation – either at the office or down the pub – this will help you hold your own. In this article, we’ll deal with power consumption and the energy needed.

A big part of the climate debate comes down to energy.

We need to create energy to power things and one of the easiest ways to create energy is to burn fossil fuels.

We cover the types of renewable energy in another article in this series – but you may be wondering exactly what we mean when we say ‘energy’ and how much we need to keep life going.

Let’s deal with electricity to keep things simple. Electricity generation accounts for 27 per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

You measure energy through its transference in watts. The actual unit of energy is a joule – and a watt is just a joule per second.

So if you’ve got a 40 watt light bulb, it’s using 40 joules per second to stay lit. A watt is a pretty small unit of measurement, which is why we have shorthand terms for larger amounts.

  • A kilowatt is a 1,000 watts.
  • A megawatt is one million watts.
  • A gigawatt is one billion watts.

Roughly speaking, the average house in the United States consumes one kilowatt of electricity per day. (This is different from the kilowatt-hour measurement used to calculate your electricity bill.)

Finger flicking on a light switch
Many of us take electricity for granted, without realising where the power comes from or how much we use (Getty)

If we scale that up, it means an average sized city in the US needs 1 gigawatt per day to keep running. The entire United States needs 1,000 gigawatts and the world as a whole needs 5,000 gigawatts each day to keep running.

Obviously, there’s a great deal of variation around the planet in terms of electricity consumption.

But, roughly speaking, think of powering a house when you hear a politician, scientist or businessman talk about kilowatts. Think about powering a city when you hear them talk about gigawatts and think about powering a large country when you hear about a hundred or more gigawatts.

You can apply this to any discussion about energy production from fossil fuels or renewable energy sources.

MORE : Your handy climate pub chat guide to: Industries

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