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When I was first told in class that I had to write my first essay in EGEE about what I knew about energy, I figured it would be easy. I knew what everyone knew about energy: some comes from the sun, some is used to make machines work, and some is used to make our bodies work. However, after the first four weeks of EGEE I’ve learned more about energy than I learned in four years of high school. I’ve learned definitions of energy, power, and heat to name a few, and I’ve also learned different units of energy and power measurements.
The first things we learned in EGEE I thought I already knew, but I only had superficial knowledge about such things energy, heat, and radiation. For example, I thought that energy was simply the ability to work. However I learned that it is the capacity to do work (Kraushaar and Ristinen 8), generating heat, and emitting radiation (lecture 1/9/02). I also learned that the formula for energy is work = force x distance (1/9/02). Heat, we learned, is the ability to change the temperature or phase of a substance; radiation is energy emitted in the form of waves traveling at the speed of light (1/11/02). I always thought that heat was the temperature of something, and radiation was emitted from microwaves and nuclear waste. Now I know more about these things than I did before.
I also learned about the units of measurement for energy, power, and temperature. The btu, or British thermal unit, is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit (Kraushaar and Ristinen 13-14) and the Calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius (1/11/02). A joule is the energy unit for the metric system, and 1055 joules = one btu = 0.252 Calories (1/11/02). Also, we learned that one gallon of gasoline is equal to 124,000 btus, one pound of coal is equal to 13,000 btus, and one cubic foot of natural gas is equal to 1,000 btus (1/11/02).
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Perhaps the thing I’ve learned the most about in EGEE so far is power, and that what we really need is power, not energy, because power is the rate of transfer or absorption of energy per unit time in a system (<http://www.its.bldrdoc.gov/fs-1037/dir-028/_4082.htm>). Also, power is what we need, not energy, because power is energy given in a specific amount of time, and energy can be given out in any amount of time. This isn’t good because it could take us a week to get the energy we need right away. This is why power is better than energy. There are many different power units, including the Watt which equals one joule per second, one kiloWatt, which is 1,000 Watts, one megawatt, which is 1,000 kW, and finally one horsepower, which equals 746 Watts, and 2,545 btus per hour (1/11/02).
In addition to learning about power and its units, we also learned some power equivalents. For example, we learned that the power of a typical incandescent light bulb is 60 Watts, the power of a student sitting is also 60 Watts, the power of a student running is 600 Watts, the United States per capita power use is 11,000 Watts, and the power of a car at 55 miles per hour is 28,000 Watts, or 37.5 horsepower (1/14/02). It’s interesting to see how the power of student running is ten times greater than that of a student sitting. I knew there must have been a great difference, but I didn’t think it would be that great of a distance.
This is only the beginning of what I’ve learned in EGEE. I was actually planning on writing more about the forms of energy, and the laws of thermodynamics, but by the time I finished with power, I realized my two pages were almost done. There is so much about energy that I have learned so far this semester, but there is still so much more that I have to learn. I am looking forward to the rest of the semester, and what else I am going to learn about energy and the environment.