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Common Power Conversions and Symbols

written by: Aggeliki K. • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 2/23/2011

The article explains the difference between energy and power, the definitions and conversions of watt to kilowatt, megawatt, and other multiples. The meaning of kilowatt-hours is also explained.

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    Power vs. Energy - What Is a Watt?

    James Watt 1736-1819  

    Before defining what a watt is, we should first determine power and energy.

    Energy is the ability of a system to produce work. Power is actually the rate at which the energy is generated or consumed and can be calculated with the following formula:

    P = E/t

    P is power, E is energy and t is time.

    In the International System of Units (SI), joule (J) is used as a derived unit for the measurement of energy and sec (s) is the base unit for the measurement of time. The derived unit defined as one joule per one second (1J /1s), is called watt (symbol [W]) and it was named after James Watt (1736-1819), a Scottish engineer. Watt is used for measuring power.

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    Conversion of Watts to Kilowatts, Megawatts and Other Multiples

    Kilowatts and megawatts are two of the most popular multiples of watt. But what is a kilowatt and what is a megawatt?

    A kilowatt (kW) is equal to one thousand watts. It is mostly used to express the power consumption of engines, motors, heaters and the electromagnetic power of radio transmitters.

    A megawatt (MW) is equal to one million watts or one thousand kilowatts. This scale is used for lightning, large commercial buildings, or large mechanical devices and constructions (carriers, submarines, etc).

    Below there is a list with the conversion of watts to kilowatts, megawatts and other multiples:

    • 1 femtowatt (fW) = 10−15 W
    • 1 picowatt (pW) = 10−12 W
    • 1 nanowatt (nW) = 10−9 W
    • 1 microwatt (μW) = 10−6 W
    • 1 milliwatt (mW) = 10−3 W
    • 1 kilowatt (kW) = 103 W
    • 1 megawatt (MW) = 106 W
    • 1 gigawatt (GW) = 109 W
    • 1 terawatt (TW) = 1012 W

    Or:

    • 1 W = 1015 fW
    • 1 W = 1012 pW
    • 1 W = 109 nW
    • 1 W = 106 μW
    • 1 W = 103 mW
    • 1 W = 10-3 kW
    • 1 W = 10-6 MW
    • 1 W = 10-9 GW
    • 1 W = 10-12 TW
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    How to Calculate Watt-hours, Kilowatt-hours and Watts per Hour

    Watt-hour is a unit measuring energy. When an electric motor consumes 1 watt in one hour, the energy consumed is 1 watt-hours. If the same motor consumes 1kW in one hour, the energy will be 1 kilowatt-hours (kW•h). A power plant may produce hundreds of megawatt-hours (MW•h) of energy.

    Watts per hour (W/h) is different than watt-hours. The unit does not express energy but rather the rate of power (change of power) consumed or generated per hour. The multiple units of watts per hour (megawatt per hours [MW/h]) is particularly used to measure the rate of power generated by power plants (for example a power output of 3 MW from 0 MW in 30 minutes has a rate of 6 MW/h).

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    Other Units of Power

    Regarding electrical systems, power can be calculated by multiplying the voltage V by the current I. When current is measured in amps and voltage in volts, the power is 1 W.

    P = VI => 1 watt = 1volt x 1amp

    BTU (Btu) is a British unit used to measure energy (mostly for heat) and not power. The conversion is: 1 Btu = 1 055.05585 J. On the other hand, the unit that measures power is BTU hour (BTU.h).

    1 W is approximately 3.41214 BTU.h and 1kW is 3412.14 BTU.h

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