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What’s in a Gigawatt?

In the power industry, the word “gigawatts” is thrown around like confetti during New Years. But if you’re like most people, you might only have a vague idea about what a gigawatt actually is.

And, if we’re being honest, mostly likely the only reference for that power measurement is a mad scientist named Doc:



So let’s set the record straight and unravel the mystery of gigawatts…besides 1.21 of them being able to launch a 1988 Delorean back to the future.


Starting with the latin root “giga” we can deduce that:

1 gigawatt (gw) = 1 million kilowatts (kw) = 100 million watts (w)


One gigawatt also happens to power about 700,000 homes a day, each consuming a monthly average of about 911 kw according to the US Energy Information Association.

To produce this much energy with coal takes about 4.7 tons of the stuff–about the same weight as an adult elephant.

Luckily for us, people have stopped ignoring this dirty elephant in the room and are harnessing the cleaner and more affordable energy of the sun.

In 2015, the Solar Energy Industries Association calculated the United States reached a total of 24.1 gigawatts of installed solar capacity.

24.1 Gigawatts!

That’s enough energy to send Doc through the space time continuum 19 times.

To put things in perspective, the US Energy Information Administration says the average nuclear reactor in the United States produces between 11,000 to 100,000 Megawatts of energy per a day.

A facility like the Hoover Dam produces between 1 to 2 gigawatts of energy per a day depending on its water level (which has become increasingly low). US Bureau of Reclamation

And about 5,000 hamsters running on a wheel will produce enough energy to power the average house.

Author: Harold Tan

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