What is a Megawatt-Hour?

While a megawatt measures the power or capacity of an electric system, a megawatt-hour represents how much electricity is delivered through that system in an hour. For example, if a 1 megawatt solar array runs in the full sun for an hour, it will theoretically produce 1 megawatt-hour of electricity.

Most people are used to seeing electricity measured in kilowatt-hours on their electric bills. A megawatt hour is simply 1000 kilowatt-hours. Other common measurements are gigawatt-hours (1000 megawatt-hours), terawatt-hours (1000 gigawatt-hours), and petawatt-hours (1000 terawatt-hours). To put these massive numbers in perspective, the US uses a bit over 4 petawatt-hours of electricity each year, while the sun delivers around 192,000 petawatt-hours to the Earth’s seven continents each year.

Making a megawatt-hour

So what resources are needed to produce a megawatt-hour of electricity? It takes approximately:

  • 1,100 pounds of coal1
  • 7,600 cubic feet of natural gas2
  • 1/20th of a solar panel over its lifetime3
  • A wind turbine spinning for 30 minutes4
  • 1.5 million gallons of water flowing over a hydro dam5
  • 79 pounds of uranium ore and 0.1 ounce of enriched uranium6
How do you make a megawatt-hour with coal natural gas enriched uranium ore nuclear solar panel wind turbine hydro dam
Based on industry averages. See footnotes for how these were calculated.

Further Reading:
What can you do with a megawatt-hour of electricity?
Understanding the basics of electricity
What is the best way to make electricity?


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  • The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has tons of information on coal, like their coal home page and lots of cost data on coal.
  • The EIA also has a home page on all-things-nuclear here.
  • To see all the sources used in this analysis, as well as the math, tying it together, you can download the spreadsheet and take it for a ride yourself.
  1. Math; It takes 1.1 pounds of coal to make a kilowatt-hour of electricityFreeing Energy []
  2. Unit – Megawatt Hour Sources (mhws).xlsx,  tabs mwhs.3, mwhs.4, Freeing Energy []
  3. Unit – Megawatt Hour Sources (mhws).xlsx, tab mwhs.5 Freeing Energy []
  4. Unit – Megawatt Hour Sources (mhws).xlsx,  tab mwhs.6, Freeing Energy []
  5. Unit – Megawatt Hour Sources (mhws).xlsx, tab mwhs.7 Freeing Energy []
  6. cost – nuclear (nu).xls, tabs nu.3, nu.4, nu.5, nu.6 Freeing Energy []



2 Responses

  1. A megawatt-hour (MWh) is a unit of energy equal to one million watts of power used continuously for one hour. It is commonly used in the electricity industry to measure and bill for large amounts of energy consumption over time, such as from industrial or commercial customers.

  2. Great post! I had no idea that a megawatt-hour was a unit of energy equivalent to one million watt-hours. It’s amazing to think about the amount of energy that powers our daily lives and the impact it has on our environment. Thank you for shedding light on this topic!

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