U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis
Frequently Asked Questions
How much coal, natural gas, or petroleum is used to generate a kilowatthour of electricity?
The amount of fuel used to generate electricity depends on the efficiency or heat rate of the generator (or power plant) and the heat content of the fuel. Power plant efficiencies (heat rates) vary by types of generators, power plant emission controls, and other factors. Fuel heat contents also vary.
Two formulas that can be used to calculate the amount of fuel used to generate a kilowatthour (kWh) of electricity:
- Amount of fuel used per kWh = Heat rate (in Btu per kWh) / Fuel heat content (in Btu per physical unit)
- Kilowatthour generated per unit of fuel used = Fuel heat content (in Btu per physical unit) / Heat rate (in Btu per kWh)
Calculation examples using these two formulas and the assumptions below:
Amount of fuel used to generate 1 kilowatthour (kWh):
- Coal = 0.00052 short tons or 1.05 pounds
- Natural gas = 0.01010 Mcf (an Mcf equals 1,000 cubic feet)
- Petroleum = 0.00175 barrels (or 0.07 gallons)
Kilowatthour generated per unit of fuel used:
- 1,904 kWh per ton, 0.95 kWh per pound, of coal
- 99 kWh per Mcf (1,000 cubic feet) of natural gas
- 570 kWh per barrel, or 13.6 kWh per gallon, of petroleum
Coal = 10,089 Btu/kWh
Natural gas = 10,354 Btu/kWh
Petroleum = 10,334 Btu/kWh
Coal = 19,210,000 Btu per short ton (2,000 pounds) Note: heat contents of coal vary widely by types of coal
Natural gas = 1,025,000 Btu per 1,000 cubic feet (Mcf)
Petroleum = 5,892,000 Btu per Barrel (42 gallons) Note: Heat contents vary by type of petroleum product
1 Heat rates for steam electric generators in 2013.
2 Heat contents for fuels consumed by the electric power sector in 2013.
Last revised: July 2, 2015
Other FAQs about Coal
- Does EIA have county-level energy production data?
- Does EIA have projections for energy production, consumption, and prices for individual states?
- Does EIA publish coking coal prices?
- From what country does the United States import the most coal?
- How do I convert between short tons and metric tons?
- How large are U.S. coal reserves?
- How many and what kind of power plants are there in the United States?
- How much coal, natural gas, or petroleum is used to generate a kilowatthour of electricity?
- Which states produce the most coal?
- To what country does the United States export the most coal?
- What are the different coal prices published by EIA?
- What is the average heat content of U.S. coal?
- What types and amounts of energy are produced in each state?