Energy concepts, explained
A good grasp of the basics gives you the foundational know-how to make smart energy choices. Below you’ll find key energy concepts and terms that will help you improve your home’s energy efficiency.
Electricity consumption – or, usage – refers to how much electricity your home uses on an hourly, daily, monthly or yearly basis. Your usage is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) by an electricity meter.
You may also see the term electricity demand in information about electricity usage. Demand, measured in kilowatts (kW) or megawatts (MW), refers to the amount of electricity being used by our customers at a given time.
A kilowatt-hour (kWh) is the most common billing unit used by electric utilities to measure the electricity consumed by its customers. A kilowatt is made up of 1000 watts, and simply put, one kilowatt-hour is 1000 watts used for one hour.
There are two simple elements to understanding your kilowatt-hour consumption:
- How many watts the device draws
- How much or how often it's used.
For example, A 100-watt light bulb used for 10 hours uses 1 kWh of electricity.
To calculate kWh, take the wattage of the device, multiply that by the number of hours that you predict it's used, and divide by 1,000.
Now that you have a better understanding of how electricity use is measured, let’s put that in context. Here are some averages for home’s in B.C.:
|AVG. MONTHLY USAGE
Single-family detached home
Single-family detached home
Electricity demand refers to how much electricity our customers use at once. If you think of our electricity system like a 10-lane highway, demand is the number of cars on the road at a given time – it changes frequently.
Capacity is our system’s capability to provide power to meet the highest, peak demand times. So in the highway example, capacity is like the number of lanes on the highway. We don’t need all 10 lanes all the time, but we need them built so we’re able to meet the rush hour demand.
In a few areas of the province during the hottest and coldest days of the year, demand approaches capacity limits. That’s where voluntary demand-response programs come in, such as incentives for helping us manage capacity by limiting your electricity use during peak periods.
Your personal energy mix
Electricity is one form of energy. If you’re a BC Hydro customer, many of the items in your home – like your lights and electronics – are powered by clean hydroelectricity. But what other forms of energy do you use in your day-to-day life?
- Do you drive a gas-powered vehicle?
- Do you heat your home with a natural gas furnace?
- Do you cook with a natural gas stove?
You may have a choice in what energy you use to power some of the things in your daily life. And when thinking about fuel switching, here are some things to consider:
- Environmental footprint: What are the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the fuel type? For example, the GHG intensity of hydroelectricity is just 10 to 30 tons per gigawatt hour (GWh) – about the same as six gas-powered vehicles. Fossil fuel generation produces about 200 or 300 tons per GWh, about the same as 153 gas-powered cars.
- Efficiency: Does it produce optimal results with minimal waste? On average, a natural gas plant is capable of converting about 45% of the available energy into electricity. A hydroelectric facility can convert about 90% of the energy from falling water into electricity.
- Reliability: Will the energy source be available when you need it? Unlike solar and wind that can only generate when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, hydroelectric facilities provide reliable power that can be counted on at any time of the year, day or night.
- Price: What’s the cost per unit of energy? How are you charged for it? How predictable is that pricing? Unlike some energy prices that can fluctuate regularly, BC Hydro rates are predictable over the longer term. Any change to our rates requires an application and approval by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
We generate clean electricity with 30 hydroelectric dams across the province.
Energy efficiency and conservation
For more than 30 years, our conservation programs have provided you with tips, rebates and other incentives to help you improve your energy efficiency and save on your bill. As we look ahead at opportunities to use our clean energy to reduce the province’s GHG emissions and fight climate change, conservation will remain important.
Regardless of the energy resource, making smart energy choices – like being mindful not to waste energy at home, or by doing a renovation that makes your home more energy efficient – helps keep your costs down and minimizes the environmental impact of that resource.
- Learn how to conserve with our energy-saving tips and technologies
- Get the most out of your energy-efficiency efforts by understanding your home as a system
And remember, electricity is just one form of energy. So when we talk about saving energy and being energy efficient, there are some cases where that actually means using more electricity – like by switching from a gas-powered car or heating system to an electric one – because you’re reducing the same or more energy consumption from other aspects of your daily life.