The Natural Gas Scam (and What the *#@! is a Watt?)

Prepare for a long rant. But hey, I added some pictures if that helps.

Last year, my highest natural gas bill was just over $200 for December (with the thermostat at a chilly 62). That’s about a $165 increase versus the summer months. This is the result of being in a house with zero insulation combined with sub-10 degree weather.

Now I’ve always been told that natural gas is the most efficient form of energy. That may be true, but I had a definite feeling my gas company was not passing along the savings.

This year for December, I decided to heat my home using electric space heaters. I’m convinced that I stand to save quite a bit of money by dissin’ Questar Gas for the ol’ coal-burning electricity.

no more Questar Gas!

Yes, I know that it’s not as good for the environment, but at this point I have to choose between hurting the environment a bit more than normal, or putting food on the table for my family of five. Family wins.

Here’s how I calculated my savings:

I know that I am charged about $0.08/kWh, so first I had to figure out how many kWh’s (kilowatt hours) the space heaters would use over the period of a month. I calculated that the heaters would be on for a combined total of 20 hours per day (probably closer to 15, but I want a worst case scenario) for a total of about 600 hours per month. Here’s the algorithm to calculate kWh:

Watts x Hours / 1,000

My space heaters are each 1,500 watt units. Plugging that number into the algorithm, I come up with 900. Multiplying that by $0.08 per kWh gives me $72. So I should expect to see an increase in my electric bill of about $72 at most. Hmmm… that’s just a bit better than $165 wouldn’t you say?

Down with the gas companies and their LIES!!!

James Watt, an onry lookin’ feller

Furthermore, what the *#@! is a watt?

Having worked in the automotive industry for several years, I basically understand how volts, amps (amperes), and ohms work and how they are related. But the meaning of wattage I’ve never understood, and fortunately never had a need to understand. That is, until I decided to calculate the kWh usage of my space heaters.

James Joule: didn’t believe
in shaving

What is a watt? It’s a measurement of one Joule per second. Okay… so what’s a Joule? It’s the work done by the force of one newton. So at this point I’m starting to get pissed. What the heck is a newton then?

It’s a force that produces an acceleration of one meter per second squared.

Alright that means something to me. So what the heck is a watt then??? If I could somehow figure out how a watt compares to an amp.

Isaac Newton, long-haired weirdo
of his day

After searching and searching through at least a dozen definitions, I finally found out that a watt is simply the power dissipated by a current of 1 amp flowing across a resistance of 1 ohm… in other words, voltage times amps (it takes one volt to push one amp through one ohm).

Well why the heck didn’t anybody just freakin’ say so?!

Well, now I know that my space heaters are using a specific combination of volts and amps. Well, I know that my electrical outlets put out 120 volts. If I knew the amps or ohms, I could figure out the other. But that’s not really important now. I can now hold my head high secure in the knowledge that I understand what it means for a device to have a draw of 1,500 watts. Hallelujah!

Now, it gets much more complex than that. I wanted to know specifically about electrical wattage. The watt by itself is a measure of power (specifically, the power to move a one kilogram weight upward under Earth gravity).

Chernobyl wasted thermal watts
when it melted down

A thermal watt is energy in the form of heat. If only we could use that directly. Instead what usually happens is thermal watts are produced to heat water, which creates steam, which in turn drives a turbine to produce electric watts. In the process, many thermal watts of energy are dissipated (ie: wasted).

In the case of cars, a majority of the energy produced by an engine is in the form of heat, most of which is wasted (either shot out the exhaust pipe or carried away by the cooling system and dissipated into the atmosphere). Similarly, whenever you brake all the energy is converted into heat (caused by the friction of brake pad against brake rotor) and again simply dissipated into the atmosphere at an energy loss of 100%. Crazy huh?

Now that I feel so good about myself, feel free to tell me that I got it all wrong. Go ahead. Destroy me in one fail swoop. I can take it.

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