The ABCs of the Power Industry

Tackling the industry’s terms one letter at a time.


How many of us have looked at our electricity bills and been slightly puzzled by what exactly a “kilowatt” is or heard about “ERCOT” and wondered what it stands for? Every now and then, we could all use a refresher on some of the power industry’s terms.

Enjoy your power industry ABCs!


  • A – Alternating Current (AC): An electric current that reverses direction of flow at regular intervals and has alternately positive and negative values.
  • B – British thermal unit (BTU): The amount of heat energy necessary to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.
  • C – Combined cycle: The combination of a gas turbine and steam turbine in an electric generating plant. At a combined cycle plant, the waste heat from the first turbine cycle provides the heat energy for the second turbine cycle.
  • D – Direct Current (DC): An electric current that flows in only one direction.
  • E – ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas): One of the ten regional reliability councils that make up the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC). ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to 24 million customers in Texas.
  • F – Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC): An independent agency that regulations the interstate transmission of natural gas, oil and electricity.
  • G – Gigawatt (GW): A gigawatt is a unit of measurement used to measure electric power. One gigawatt is equal to 1,000 megawatts (MW), 1 million kilowatts (kW) or one billion watts.
  • H – Hertz: A measure of the number of cycles or wavelengths of electrical energy per second. The U.S. electricity supply has a standard frequency of 60 hertz.
  • I – Interconnection: A connection between utilities that enables power to be moved in either direction and allows for enhanced system reliability.
  • J – Joule: A unit used to measure energy where one joule per second equals 1 watt and 1 BTU is equal to 1,055 joules.
  • K – Kilowatt (kW): A unit of electrical power measurement that is equal to 1,000 watts.
  • L – Load: The power needed to run a refrigerator, air conditioner, building, electric distribution system, etc. Also synonymous with the term “demand.”
  • M – Municipal Utility: A provider of utility services owned and operated by the municipal government.
  • N – NERC (North American Electric Reliability Council): An international regulatory authority designed to ensure the reliability of the bulk power system in North America including the U.S., Canada and the northern portion of Baja California, Mexico.
  • O – Off-Peak: Periods of low power demand. The opposite of peak demand.
  • P – Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT): The state’s regulator of electric, telecommunication, water and sewer utilities. Also implements legislation and offers assistance with customer complaints for these industries.
  • Q – Quad: One quadrillion BTU (1,000,000,000,000,000 BTU).
  • R – Reactor: A device in which a controlled nuclear chain reaction can be maintained and produce heat energy.
  • S – Spinning Reserve: Generation capacity that is on-line but has not yet been unloaded; usually the first type of capacity used when there is a shortfall.
  • T – Turbine Generator: A device that uses steam, heated gases, water or wind to create a spinning motion that activates electromagnetic forces and produces electricity.
  • U – Uranium: A radioactive element that can be used to create electricity by splitting the atoms.
  • V – Volt: The unit of measurement of electromotive force that is equivalent to the force required to produce a current of one ampere through a resistance of one ohm.
  • W – Watt: A unit of measurement for electric power that describes the rate of which electricity is used at any given point in time.
  • X – X-Ray: A type of electromagnetic radiation with low energy levels.
  • Y – Yellowcake: A solid uranium-oxygen compound that is the source material used for fuel enrichment and fuel pellet production.
  • Z – Zoning: The act of grouping rooms within a structure according to similar heating and cooling patterns.
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