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 kilowatt-hour 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 for calculating the amount of fuel used to generate a unit of electricity:
- Amount of fuel used per kilowatt-hour (kWh) = Heat Rate (in Btu per kWh) / Fuel Heat Content (in Btu per physical unit)
- KWh 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 one kilowatt-hour (kWh):
- Coal = 0.00053 Short Tons or 1.07 Pounds
- Natural Gas = 0.00798 Mcf (1,000 cubic feet)
- Residual Fuel Oil = 0.00184 Barrels (or 0.08 gallons)
KWh generated per unit of fuel used:
- 1,870 kWh per Ton of Coal or 0.9 kWh per Pound of Coal
- 125 kWh per Mcf (1,000 cubic feet) of Natural Gas
- 542 kWh per Barrel of Petroleum, or 13 kWh per Gallon
Coal = 10,444 Btu/kWh
Natural Gas = 8,152 Btu/kWh
Petroleum = 10,829 Btu/kWh
Coal = 19,530,000 Btu per Short Ton (2,000 lbs) Note: heat contents of coal vary widely by types of coal
Natural Gas = 1,021,000 Btu per 1,000 Cubic Feet (Mcf)
Petroleum Fuel Oil = 5,871,390 Btu per Barrel (42 gallons) Note: Heat contents vary by type of petroleum product
Last updated: February 15, 2013
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