How much coal, natural gas, or petroleum is used to generate a kilowatthour of electricity?
The annual average amounts of coal, natural gas, and petroleum fuels used to generate a kilowatthour (kWh) of electricity by U.S. electric utilities and independent power producers in 2021 were:1
- Coal–1.12 pounds/kWh
- Natural gas–7.40 cubic feet/kWh
- Petroleum liquids–0.08 gallons/kWh
- Petroleum coke–0.80 pounds/kWh
The annual average number of kWh generated per amount of coal, natural gas, and petroleum fuels consumed for electricity generation by U.S. electric utilities and independent power producers in 2021 were:1
- Coal–0.90 kWh/pound
- Natural gas–0.14 kWh/cubic foot
- Petroleum liquids–12.86 kWh/gallon
- Petroleum coke–1.25 kWh/pound
The above amounts are based on preliminary data for 2021 from the Electric Power Monthly, April 2022, and the simple averages of national-level annual data for electric utilities and independent power producers. They represent the annual average amounts for most of the electricity that is generated for sale in the United States, but exclude electricity generated in the commercial and industrial sectors. The fuel consumption data used for the above amounts exclude fuel use for useful thermal output in combined heat and power plants.
The actual amounts for a specific generator or power plant may vary considerably from those above. The exact amounts 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 (prime movers), by type and heat content of fuels, power plant emission controls, and other factors.
Two formulas 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 British thermal units [Btu] per kWh) divided by Fuel heat content (in Btu per physical unit)
- Kilowatthour generated per unit of fuel used = Fuel heat content (in Btu per physical unit) divided by Heat rate (in Btu per kWh)
Data sources available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for those calculations include:
Electric Power Annual
Monthly Energy Review, Appendices with fuel heat contents, electricity heat rates, and conversion factors
EIA publishes monthly and annual data on the amount of electricity generated and associated fuel consumption by electricity producers on a national and state level, and at individual power plants. This data can also be used to calculate fuel consumption per kWh of electricity generation and/or kWh generation per unit of fuel use.
1 Excludes fuel use for useful thermal output in combined heat and power plants.
Last updated: May 20, 2022
Other FAQs about Electricity
- How old are U.S. nuclear power plants, and when was the newest one built?
- How much coal, natural gas, or petroleum is used to generate a kilowatthour of electricity?
- How many smart meters are installed in the United States, and who has them?
- What is the outlook for home heating fuel prices this winter?
- How much does it cost to generate electricity with different types of power plants?
- Does EIA publish electric utility rate, tariff, and demand charge data?
- Can electric utility customers choose their electricity supplier?
- How much of U.S. energy consumption and electricity generation comes from renewable energy sources?
- Does EIA have data on each power plant in the United States?
- What types and amounts of energy are produced in each state?
- How much of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are associated with electricity generation?
- Does EIA publish energy consumption and price data for cities, counties, or by zip code?
- How many power plants are there in the United States?
- How many nuclear power plants are in the United States, and where are they located?
- How much electricity does an American home use?
- Does EIA have forecasts or projections for energy production, consumption, and prices for individual states?
- How much electricity is used for cooling in the United States?
- How much electricity is used for lighting in the United States?
- How many alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles are there in the United States?
- What is U.S. electricity generation by energy source?
- How much does it cost to build different types of power plants in the United States?
- Does EIA publish data on peak or hourly electricity generation, demand, and prices?
- How much electricity is lost in electricity transmission and distribution in the United States?
- What is the efficiency of different types of power plants?
- Does EIA publish the location of electric power plants, transmission lines, and substations?
- What is the difference between electricity generation capacity and electricity generation?
- How much electricity does a nuclear power plant generate?
- Does EIA have county-level energy production data?
- How is electricity used in U.S. homes?
- Does EIA publish electricity sales and price data by state and by utility?
- Does EIA have data on costs for electricity transmission and distribution?
- How much of world energy consumption and production is from renewable energy?
- How much energy does the world consume by each energy end-use sector?
- Does EIA have information on unplanned outages or shutdowns of U.S. energy infrastructure?