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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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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–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: April 5, 2021


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