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 (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 updated: March 30, 2015
Other FAQs about Natural Gas
- Does EIA have county-level energy production data?
- Does EIA have energy consumption and price data for cities, counties, or by zip code?
- Does EIA have maps or information on the location of natural gas and oil pipelines?
- Does EIA have projections for energy production, consumption, and prices for individual states?
- Does EIA publish shale gas and coal bed methane production and reserves data?
- How does the U.S. Energy Information Administration calculate the year-ago and five-year averages in the Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report?
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- How much coal, natural gas, or petroleum is used to generate a kilowatthour of electricity?
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- Why am I being charged more for propane than the price on EIA's website?
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- How much natural gas is consumed in the United States?
- How much shale gas is produced in the United States?
- What are Ccf, Mcf, Btu, and therms? How do I convert natural gas prices in dollars per Ccf or Mcf to dollars per Btu or therm?
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- What is the outlook for home heating fuel prices this winter?
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- What types and amounts of energy are produced in each state?