How much coal, natural gas, or petroleum is used to generate a kilowatthour of electricity?
The average amounts of coal, natural gas, and petroleum liquid fuels used to generate a kilowatthour (kWh) of electricity by the U.S. electric power sector in 2020 were1
- Coal–1.13 pounds/kWh
- Petroleum liquids–0.08 gallons/kWh
- Natural gas–7.43 cubic feet/kWh
The average number of kWh generated per amount of coal, natural gas, and petroleum liquid fuels consumed by the U.S. electric power sector for electricity generation in 2020 were1
- Coal–0.88 kWh/pound
- Petroleum liquids–12.76 kWh/gallon
- Natural gas–0.13 kWh/cubic foot
The above amounts are based on national-level annual data. 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 24, 2021
Other FAQs about Oil/Petroleum
- What is the outlook for home heating fuel prices this winter?
- What do I pay for in a gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel?
- When was the last refinery built in the United States?
- How much oil consumed by the United States comes from foreign countries?
- How much oil is consumed in the United States?
- How much oil is used to make plastic?
- Does the world have enough oil to meet our future needs?
- What is the difference between crude oil, petroleum products, and petroleum?
- What are petroleum products, and what is petroleum used for?
- Does EIA have information on U.S. natural gas and oil pipelines?
- How many alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles are there in the United States?
- How much of the crude oil produced in the United States is consumed in the United States?
- How many gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel are made from one barrel of oil?
- What is U.S. electricity generation by energy source?
- Does EIA have data on the type or quality of crude oil?
- Does EIA have data on the movement (transport) of crude oil, petroleum products, fuel ethanol, and biodiesel by rail?
- Does EIA have data on U.S. oil refineries and their locations?
- How much coal, natural gas, or petroleum is used to generate a kilowatthour of electricity?
- What countries are the top producers and consumers of oil?
- How much petroleum does the United States import and export?
- What types and amounts of energy are produced in each state?
- Does EIA have county-level energy production data?
- How much shale (tight) oil is produced in the United States?
- Does EIA have forecasts or projections for energy production, consumption, and prices for individual states?
- Does EIA have information on unplanned outages or shutdowns of U.S. energy infrastructure?