Global Energy Network Institute was founded in 1986 by Peter Meisen to investigate the idea of Dr. R. Buckminster Fuller, proposing a global electric energy grid as the number one priority to solve many of the world's most pressing problems. In 1991, GENI was incorporated in San Diego, California, USA as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.
GENI's mission is to conduct research and to educate world leaders and the public about the critical viability of the interconnection of electric power networks between nations and continents, with an emphasis on tapping abundant renewable energy resources, what we call 'the GENI Initiative.' Our research shows that linking renewables between all nations will mollify conflicts, grow economies and increase the quality of life and health for all. This is a strategy rooted in the highest priority of the World Game simulation developed by Dr. Buckminster Fuller three decade ago.
Freezing winter weather or a long, sweltering summer — either one increases your utility bills. But how much of the rise in the cost is a result of the weather? You can find out by using a unit of measure called the "degree-day." A degree-day compares the outdoor temperature to a standard of 65°F; the more extreme the temperature, the higher the degree-day number and the more energy needed for space heating or cooling.
Hot days, which require the use of energy for cooling, are measured in cooling degree-days. On a day with a mean temperature of 80°F, for example, 15 cooling degree-days would be recorded. Cold days are measured in heating degree-days. For a day with a mean temperature of 40°F, 25 heating degree-days would be recorded. Two such cold days would result in a total of 50 heating degree-days for the two-day period.
The West North Central region normally requires more heating than other regions.
In some areas, degree-day information is published in the local newspapers, usually in the weather section. Degree-day information may also be available from your local utility and its public relations department. Some utility bills even show degree-days for each billing period.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration publishes regional averages for:
Physical units reflect measures of distances, areas, volumes, heights, weights, mass, force, and energy. Different types of energy are measured by different physical units:
Barrels or gallons for petroleum
Cubic feet for natural gas
Tons for coal
Kilowatthours for electricity
To compare different fuels, we need to convert the measurements to the same units.
How Big is a Barrel?
A confusing unit of measure is a barrel. A barrel's capacity is determined by who uses the term and what it contains.
1 barrel (bbl) of petroleum or related products = 42 gallons 1 barrel of Portland cement = 376 pounds 1 barrel of flour = 196 pounds 1 barrel of pork or fish = 200 pounds 1 barrel of (U.S.) dry measure = 3.29122 bushels or 4.2104 cubic feet A barrel may be called a "drum," but a drum usually holds 55 gallons
Units for Comparing Energy
Some popular units for comparing energy include British Thermal Units (Btu), barrels of oil equivalent, metric tons of oil equivalent, metric tons of coal equivalent, and terajoules.
In the United States, the Btu, a measure of heat energy, is the most commonly used unit for comparing fuels. Because energy used in different countries comes from different places, the Btu content of fuels varies slightly from country to country.
The Btu content of each fuel provided below and used in the energy calculator reflects the average energy content for fuels consumed in the United States.
Btu Content of Common Energy Units
1 barrel (42 gallons) of crude oil = 5,800,000 Btu
1 gallon of gasoline = 124,000 Btu (based on U.S. consumption, 2008)
1 gallon of diesel fuel = 139,000 Btu
1 gallon of heating oil = 139,000 Btu
1 barrel of residual fuel oil = 6,287,000 Btu
1 cubic foot of natural gas = 1,028 Btu (based on U.S. consumption, 2008)
1 gallon of propane = 91,000 Btu
1 short ton of coal = 19,988,000 Btu (based on U.S. consumption, 2008)
1 kilowatthour of electricity = 3,412 Btu
Examples of Converting Different Energy Sources to Btu
You have a natural gas furnace in your home that used 81,300 cubic feet of natural gas for heating last winter. Your neighbor has an oil furnace that used 584 gallons of heating oil last winter. To determine which home used more energy for heating, you can convert the natural gas and heating oil consumption figures into Btu, as follows:
Natural Gas: 81,300 cubic feet (your house)
1,028 Btu per cubic foot
= 83,576,400 Btu
Heating Oil: 584 gallons (neighbor's house)
139,000 Btu per gallon
= 81,176,000 Btu
Answer: You used more energy to heat your house!
You work for an electric power company. Your company’s power generators can run on one of two fuels: natural gas or residual fuel oil. Your job is to switch fuels when the cost of the fuel you are currently using becomes more expensive than the other fuel. This will keep costs down for you and your electricity customers. Your company’s generators are currently using residual fuel oil, but fuel oil prices have been going up much faster than natural gas prices. Based on the fuel costs below, you need to decide if it is time to switch to natural gas:
$7.30 per thousand cubic feet
1.028 million Btu per thousand cubic feet =
$7.10 per million Btu
Residual fuel oil:
$57.75 per barrel
6.287 million Btu per barrel =
$9.19 per million Btu
Answer: When you convert the fuels into the same units, you see that residual fuel oil now costs more than natural gas. You decide to switch to natural gas to save money.
What Is a Btu?
A "British thermal unit" (Btu) is a measure of the heat content of fuels. It is the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 pound of liquid water by 1°F at the temperature that water has its greatest density (approximately 39°F).
Why Do We Use Btu?
One practical way to compare different fuels is to convert physical units of measure (such as weight or volume) into a common unit of measurement based on the energy content of each fuel.The British thermal unit (Btu) is a widely used measure of energy content.
Using Btu for Comparing Home Heating Fuels
How can you compare home heating fuel prices? You must compare the cost per heating value (Btu) of each fuel.
Using Btu for Comparing Electricity Generation Fuels
Suppose you have been assigned the responsibility of purchasing fuel for a large electric utility company. You need to keep costs down for you and your electricity customers. Which fuel would you choose to generate electricity — coal, oil, or natural gas? In 2008, average prices of fuel delivered to electric power plants were:
$41.14 per short ton of coal
$64.89 per 42-gallon barrel of oil
$9.26 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas
The prices of each fuel look quite different, but you can compare the prices of their energy content by first converting to Btu.
A short ton of coal contains about 21 million Btu, a barrel of oil contains about 6 million Btu, and a thousand cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas contains about 1 million Btu. After dividing price by energy content, you can see which fuel is least expensive:
Btu (Energy Content)
$41.14 per ton
21 million per short ton
$64.89 per barrel
6 million per barrel
$9.26 per Tcf
1 million per Tcf
So coal is actually the least expensive fuel on a price-per-energy content basis.
Of course, cost is not the only factor to consider when selecting a fuel. Environmental restrictions and equipment costs are some of the other factors that should be taken into account.
Btu Quick Facts
A single Btu is insignificant in terms of the energy use in a single household or in the Nation's energy consumption. In 2008, the United States used over 99 quadrillion (written out, 1 quadrillion is a 1 followed by 15 zeros) Btu of energy.
One quadrillion Btu is a very large amount of energy:
One Btu is approximately equal to the energy released in the burning of a wood match.
One million Btu equals about 8 gallons of motor gasoline.
One billion Btu equals all the electricity that 300 households consume in one month.
One trillion Btu is equal to 500 100-ton railroad cars of coal.
One quadrillion Btu is equal to 172 million barrels of crude oil.
To scientists, "conservation of energy" does not mean saving energy. Instead, the law of conservation of energy says that energy is neither created nor destroyed. When we use energy, it doesn't disappear. We change it from one form of energy into another.
A car engine burns gasoline, converting the chemical energy in gasoline into mechanical energy. Solar cells change radiant energy into electrical energy. Energy changes form, but the total amount of energy in the universe stays the same.
Converting One Form of Energy Into Another
"Energy efficiency" is the amount of useful energy you get from any type of system. A perfectly energy-efficient machine would change all the energy put in it into useful work. In reality, converting one form of energy into another form always involves a loss of useable energy.
In fact, most energy transformations are not very efficient. The human body is a good example. Your body is like a machine, and the fuel for your machine is food. Food gives you the energy to move, breathe, and think. But your body isn't very efficient at converting food into useful work. Your body is less than 5% efficient most of the time. The rest of the energy is lost as heat.
We use many different energy sources to do work. Energy sources are classified into two groups — renewable and nonrenewable. Renewable and nonrenewable energy can be converted into secondary energy sources like electricity and hydrogen.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review (2008)
Most of Our Energy Is Nonrenewable
In the United States, most of our energy comes from nonrenewable energy sources. Coal, petroleum, natural gas, propane, and uranium are nonrenewable energy sources. They are used to make electricity, to heat our homes, to move our cars, and to manufacture all kinds of products.
These energy sources are called nonrenewable because their supplies are limited. Petroleum, for example, was formed millions of years ago from the remains of ancient sea plants and animals. We can't make more petroleum in a short time.
Use of Renewable Energy Is Growing
Renewable energy sources include biomass, geothermal energy, hydropower, solar energy, and wind energy. They are called renewable energy sources because they are replenished in a short time. Day after day, the sun shines, the wind blows, and the rivers flow. We use renewable energy sources mainly to make electricity.
How Are Secondary Sources of Energy Different?
Electricity and hydrogen are different from the other energy sources because they are secondary sources of energy. Secondary sources of energy — energy carriers — are used to store, move, and deliver energy in easily useable form. We have to use another energy source to make electricity or hydrogen. In the United States, coal is the number one energy source for generating electricity.
Today the cheapest way to get hydrogen is by separating it from natural gas, a nonrenewable energy source. Hydrogen can also be separated from water and from renewables, but hydrogen made from these sources is currently too expensive to compete with other fuels. Scientists are working on ways to make hydrogen from water and renewables more affordable.
Energy is found in different forms including light, heat, chemical, and motion. There are many forms of energy, but they can all be put into two categories: potential and kinetic.
Potential energy is stored energy and the energy of position — gravitational energy. There are several forms of potential energy.
Kinetic energy is motion — of waves, molecules, objects, substances, and objects.
Chemical Energy is energy stored in the bonds of atoms and molecules. Biomass, petroleum, natural gas, and coal are examples of stored chemical energy. Chemical energy is converted to thermal energy when we burn wood in a fireplace or burn gasoline in a car's engine.
Mechanical Energy is energy stored in objects by tension. Compressed springs and stretched rubber bands are examples of stored mechanical energy.
Nuclear Energy is energy stored in the nucleus of an atom — the energy that holds the nucleus together. Very large amounts of energy can be released when the nuclei are combined or split apart. Nuclear power plants split the nuclei of uranium atoms in a process called fission. The sun combines the nuclei of hydrogen atoms in a process called fusion.
Gravitational Energy is energy stored in an object's height. The higher and heavier the object, the more gravitational energy is stored. When you ride a bicycle down a steep hill and pick up speed, the gravitational energy is being converted to motion energy. Hydropower is another example of gravitational energy, where the dam "piles" up water from a river into a reservoir.
Electrical Energy is what is stored in a battery, and can be used to power a cell phone or start a car. Electrical energy is delivered by tiny charged particles called electrons, typically moving through a wire. Lightning is an example of electrical energy in nature, so powerful that it is not confined to a wire.
Radiant Energy is electromagnetic energy that travels in transverse waves. Radiant energy includes visible light, x-rays, gamma rays and radio waves. Light is one type of radiant energy. Sunshine is radiant energy, which provides the fuel and warmth that make life on Earth possible.
Thermal Energy, or heat, is the vibration and movement of the atoms and molecules within substances. As an object is heated up, its atoms and molecules move and collide faster. Geothermal energy is the thermal energy in the Earth.
Motion Energy is energy stored in the movement of objects. The faster they move, the more energy is stored. It takes energy to get an object moving, and energy is released when an object slows down. Wind is an example of motion energy. A dramatic example of motion is a car crash, when the car comes to a total stop and releases all its motion energy at once in an uncontrolled instant.
Sound is the movement of energy through substances in longitudinal (compression/rarefaction) waves. Sound is produced when a force causes an object or substance to vibrate — the energy is transferred through the substance in a wave. Typically, the energy in sound is far less than other forms
Energy makes change possible. We use it to do things for us. It moves cars along the road and boats over the water. It bakes a cake in the oven and keeps ice frozen in the freezer. It plays our favorite songs on the radio and lights our homes. Energy is needed for our bodies to grow and it allows our minds to think.
Scientists define energy as the ability to do work. Modern civilization is possible because we have learned how to change energy from one form to another and use it to do work for us and to live more comfortably.
Energy comes in different forms:
Energy is in everything. We use energy for everything we do, from making a jump shot to baking cookies to sending astronauts into space.
There are two types of energy:
Stored (potential) energy
Working (kinetic) energy
For example, the food you eat contains chemical energy, and your body stores this energy until you use it when you work or play.
Energy Sources Can be Categorized As Renewable or Nonrenewable
When we use electricity in our home, the electrical power was probably generated by burning coal, by a nuclear reaction, or by a hydroelectric plant at a dam. Therefore, coal, nuclear and hydro are called energy sources. When we fill up a gas tank, the source might be petroleum or ethanol made by growing and processing corn.
Energy sources are divided into two groups — renewable (an energy source that can be easily replenished) and nonrenewable (an energy source that we are using up and cannot recreate). Renewable and nonrenewable energy sources can be used to produce secondary energy sources including electricity and hydrogen.
Renewable energy sources include:
Solar energy from the sun, which can be turned into electricity and heat
Geothermal energy from heat inside the Earth
Biomass from plants, which includes firewood from trees, ethanol from corn, and biodiesel from vegetable oil
Hydropower from hydroturbines at a dam
We get most of our energy from nonrenewable energy sources, which include the fossil fuels — oil, natural gas, and coal. They're called fossil fuels because they were formed over millions and millions of years by the action of heat from the Earth's core and pressure from rock and soil on the remains (or "fossils") of dead plants and creatures like microscopic diatoms. Another nonrenewable energy source is the element uranium, whose atoms we split (through a process called nuclear fission) to create heat and ultimately electricity.
We use renewable and nonrenewable energy sources to generate the electricity we need for our homes, businesses, schools, and factories. Electricity "energizes" our computers, lights, refrigerators, washing machines, and air conditioners, to name only a few uses.
Most of the gasoline used in our cars and motorcycles and the diesel fuel used in our trucks are made from petroleum oil, a nonrenewable resource. Natural gas, used to heat homes, dry clothes, and cook food, is nonrenewable. The propane that fuels our outdoor grills made from oil and natural gas, both nonrenewable.
The chart above shows what energy sources the United States uses. Nonrenewable energy sources account for 93% of all energy used in the Nation. Biomass, the largest renewable source, accounts for over half of of all renewable energy and 3.7% of total energy consumption. (Note: 53% of 7% is 3.7%.)