What is a Watt? Translating Energy Gobbledygook into Aussie English

Have you ever wondered what a watt really is, why it matters, or how it impacts how much you pay for power? If you have, you’ve probably spent a fair few hours on Google trying to make sense of the complicated technical explanations experts write.

The energy industry is at its core very complex and technical, and that will never change. But from working in this industry for so long, we know that there are thousands of Aussies out there who just want straight answers to their energy questions, without all the gobbledygook.

So, we’ve decided to translate some of that jargon into Aussie English. Specifically, we’re going to look at what a watt is, what a joule is, what a kilowatt hour is, so that every Aussie can actually understand what their energy bill means, and how they’re charged for power.

Watts, Joules & Kilowatt Hours Explained

Before we dive into what watts and kilowatt hours are, we need to explain what a joule (J) is.

What is a joule (J)?

A joule is the unit of measurement in the metric system for energy. Energy describes the ability of an object/body to exert force. A joule is a unit of energy, and a unit of work/force.

Translation: A joule is how scientists and engineers measure how much work or energy has been put into something. Kind of like calculating Hard Yakka for energy particles.

What is the Metric System?

The Metric System uses the meter, litre, gram, kilo, deci, centi etc measurements. It’s used by us here in Australia and the English, but not Americans. American use the imperial system, including the measurements of feet, inches, pounds, ounces etc.

Translation: It’s how we measure things using proper English. But, to be fair, us Aussies have our own measurement system when it comes to slang. Like how a few clicks = a few kilometres.

watts or energy particles shown by bright waves of light

What is a watt (W)?

A watt (W), is a unit of measurement in the metric system that describes the speed or rate of work. In maths terms its 1 Watt = 1 Joule/second.

Translation: If you’ve got two tradies building their own houses, and they both exert the same amount of energy but one works quicker than the other, which is more powerful? The faster one right? Right. Basically, a watt tells you how fast energy is being exerted.
Higher wattage = more power.

What is a kilowatt hour (kWh)?

Now we know what a watt is, we can understand what a kilowatt hour is. Then, we can see how the energy companies use it to charge for power.

1 Kilowatt = 1,000W, 1 Megawatt = 1,000,000W and a Gigawatt= 1,000,000,000W.

Just like a watt, a kilowatt describes how fast the work is being done. The reason for using kilowatts, megwatts and giga-watts is so that engineers and scientists aren’t writing a million zeros when calculating powerful electrical equipment.

However, a kilowatt hour (kWh) is not the same measurement as a watt or kilowatt. A kWh is all about the energy used to fuel an electrical appliance over a specific period of time.

Translation: If you use a 1000W appliance for one hour, you’ve used 1kWh. If you use a 500W appliance for two hours, you’ve used 1kWh. If you use a 100W lightbulb and leave it on for 10 hours you’ve used 1 kWh. Basically, it’s all about how long it takes you to use 1kW or 1000W of power.

How do kWhs impact how much you pay for electricity?

In Australia, energy retailers charge you for electricity based on the kWh you have used during the billing cycle, plus any additional tariffs, fees and supply charges.

They can find out these figures by reading your meter. Energy retailers either do this physically, coming to look at the meter at your property, or if you have a smart meter they can track this remotely.

When you install a solar system, your energy retailer is legally obligated to update your meter to a digital smart meter, in order to connect your new power supply to the grid. It also means that your usage is no longer an estimate, and you can start to see exactly how you’re using energy.

How much do Aussies pay for electricity?

The amount Aussies pay for each kWh of electricity depends on a whole range of individual factors, including how much energy you use, when you use your energy, and where you live in Australia (as each state has different rules and regulations).

It gets even more complicated when you look at the discounted rates in play, used by energy companies to ‘save’ customers who are thinking of jumping ship. Plus, when homeowners install a custom solar system and start selling the energy they generate back to the grid, their bill is reduced even further by solar feed-in tariffs (FiTs)

According to Canstar Blue, the average cost per kWh for the three major eastern states is around the 20cents mark. That means that for every 1000W of power used, you’ll be charged around 20cents.

StateAverage Electricity Usage Rates (per kWh)
Source: Canstar Blue. Data accurate as at 14th Feb 2022

So, if you’re using 20kWh per day, you’re looking at a cost of $4/day and $365/quarter, or if you use 50kWh each day, you’re looking at $10/day or around $912/quarter.

We hope how you pay for electricity makes a little more sense now, but if it doesn’t – reach out and let us know what you want explained in more detail in the next blog.

Econnect Solar acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work. We acknowledge their continuing connection to land, rivers and sea. We wish to pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging.