Explaining some energy basics

Our team frequently hosts user testing, where we show off our newest updates and see what people think. In our very first user testing sessions, there were a lot of people that were confused by kBtu. My favorite moment was when a brave participant took a stab at pronouncing kBtu as “kah-b-TOO”. In the industry it’s usually pronounced “kay-b-t-YOU”, but they got our props for trying.

Below we’ll answer some of the common questions we were asked in our user testing sessions. These questions were people’s first impression of a kBtu and what they were thinking when they were exploring the Campus Energy Education Dashboard.

A kBt-what?




The unit itself is a Btu, or British thermal unit. A Btu is about 1055 joules (if you want the Euro flavor), and is the amount of energy required to heat 1 lb of water 1 degree F. Or put more simply, a Btu is about the heat you would generate burning a wooden match stick. So one kBtu is 1,000 matches all burning at once!

Why not show electricity in kW and chilled water and steam in their unit of measure?

Ah-ha! Good question brilliant data analyst. The answer is that we could show electricity in kW, chilled water in ton-hours and steam in pounds. However, we don’t because we want to show how they all add up to total energy use.

If you’ve seen the live data page on CEED you’ve seen the graphs where electricity, chilled water and steam are stacked on top of each other to show total energy use (and to stack them they all have to be in the same unit). The reason we like this presentation is because you can see the building’s total energy use and how it breaks down into electricity, chilled water and steam. Neat, right?



How big is BIG when it comes to kBtu?


It depends on the building type. Lab buildings use the most energy on campus, and they pack more energy use (measured in kBtu) into each square foot.


meyermath lab






For example, the lab building Meyer Hall weighs in at 450 kBtu per square foot. In comparison, an office building, Math Sciences Building, has an energy use intensity (EUI) of 86 kBtu per square foot.

If we've lost you, don’t worry, there’s a nifty feature on CEED that will help you out. When you click on a building a side panel slides out with two gauges: one for the building’s EUI or kBtu per square foot and a second with the average EUI of that building type. Now you’ll know if something that seems big is really BIG.

If you would ever like to participate in one of our user testing sessions, they happen every few months. Please drop us a line at energyfeedback@ucdavis.edu and let us know.