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What the Heck is the Difference Between a Kilowatt and a Kilowatt-hour (kW vs. kWh)

Avatar for Dave Llorens
Published on 10/11/2007 in
Updated 06/24/2019

So you look at a light bulb and it says “100 Watts.” What the hell does that mean? What the Heck is the Difference Between a Kilowatt and a Kilowatt-hour?

Your power company charges your for “Kilowatt-hours” that you use… What the hell is a Kilowatt-hour?!

Juice ManFor starters, a Kilowatt (kW) is just one thousand watts, just like a megawatt (MW) is one million watts. A “watt” (W) is a measurement of POWER. To be precise it’s using one joule per second. However, since no one has uttered the word “joule” since that physics class they took fifteen years ago, we use watts instead of Joules per second, because they’re printed on light bulbs and people have an idea of what they mean. To put it in perspective, a car engine cruising uses about 25,000 watts, which is about 30 horsepower.

But that’s a car… Mechanical energy. We want to talk about electricity since we’re concerned with solar power. With electricity, POWER is voltage time amperage. Or 1watt = 1volt * 1ampere.

A good way to think about electricity is that it’s a lot like water. Voltage is the pushing, or the pressure, and amperage is the flow. A dammed up lake, although it has a hell of a lot of pressure (voltage), doesn’t flow anywhere (zero amperage) so there’s no power (lots of volts * zero amps = zero watts). On the other hand take a super soaker water gun. Super fast stream (lots of amps) but a tiny little compressed reservoir (not a lot of volts). I wouldn’t go so far as to call that “powerful.” Finally, look at a rushing river. Lots of volts, lots of amps, huge power. So wait, Dave, you got off subject, we’re talking about Watts here…

Oh yah, Watts. Ok, so a Watt is energy burned per second. If you flick on a 100 Watt light bulb it’s eating up 100 Joules of energy every second (interestingly, a standard candle is exactly 1 Watt). So now what’s a watt-hour (wH)? Well, don’t get confused when you see a confusing or seemingly incorrect usage of watt or watt-hour in mass media. The two terms are often interchanged and misused.

“Watts per hour” doesn’t make sense because it’s already a measurement of “joules per second.” Does “Joules per second multiplied by one hour” make sense? No. A Watt-hour is what your power company uses to charge you, and it’s a way of removing the “per second” from Watts. So now instead of talking about Joules per unit of time, you’re just talking about Joules period…. but we call them Watt-hours because no one knows what the hell a “joule” is.

Think of Watts as the speed you’re running and Watt-hours as how far you’ve actually run. A kilowatt-hour is the amount of energy equivalent to a power of 1 kilowatt running for 1 hour. If you leave a 100 Watt light bulb on for 1 hour, you’ve done gone and used up 100 watt-hours.

But your electric company will bill you by the kilowatt-hour, so you’ll get a bill for .1 kWh, multiplied by your per-kWh rate. That means if you run a 100 watt bulb for an hour a day for 30 days in a month, and you pay $.10/kWh, your bill will be for .1 kWh x 30 days x $.10, or $.30.

Ok, I feel like I’ve made that explanation 100 times longer than it should have been. Hope that helped.

Last modified: June 24, 2019

62 thoughts on “What the Heck is the Difference Between a Kilowatt and a Kilowatt-hour (kW vs. kWh)

  1. Avatar for Arnold K. Arnold K. says:

    If you have four 360 watt panels, how many 24 volt, 100ah batteries will you be able to charge, assuming these lead acid batteries are already 50% charged?


    I’m getting a 19.43 KWh system here in Bakersfield ca. with about 9 hours of sunlight with the newest panels with inverters on each panels i think i said that right. i was told it will produce over 19,000 kwh in a year is the correct. and how much will it produce daily. In June,July,August i used over 3,200 kwh for each of those months. Winter average 2,000 kwh is this system big enough for me so i don’t have a true up cost at the end of the year

    1. Avatar for Ben Zientara Ben Zientara says:

      Hey Eric-

      Thanks for the question. Without looking at your actual usage, I can’t tell you with 100% certainty, but I think I can give you a ballpark idea. A 19.4-kW system in Bakersfield should generate a great deal more than 19,000 kWh. Using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PVWatts tool, it looks like you’ll be getting about 33,000 kWh per year from your system, and yes, nearly 2,000 kWh in the winter months of December and January. Average per day is 90 kWh, with a low of 58 kWh/day in January and a high of 110 kWh/day in June.

      Check it out:

      PVWatts estimate for a 19.4-kW home solar system in Bakersfield, CA

      If your usage is 19,000 kWh/year, a 19.43-kW system may be too large for you, unless you plan to add an electric vehicle you don’t currently account for in your annual usage.

      1. Avatar for Eric Eric says:

        Thank you Ben,
        That sound about right. I wanted a system large for future usage like electric car and electric patio heaters etc. My average electric cost is about $600.00 and the PPA I signed up for is $486.00 so below avg. I have a large pool and spa that is used year round. Just don’t want no surprises at the end of the year for going over what I can produce. Again thanks for the quick response

  3. Avatar for Disgusted Disgusted says:

    Wow, if you could try that w/o the four-letter profanity every other line, you might even come across as a credible professional.
    No guarantees, however.

    1. Avatar for Joe Simmons Joe Simmons says:

      If offended, then you could pay some one to explain it to you instead reading it and then complaining.

  4. Avatar for jesse jesse says:

    if a watt is energy burned per second, then wouldn’t a 100 watt bulb use (60×100) 6000 watts per minute and then 360,000 watts in an hour? Something i’m not getting…….”Oh yah, Watts. Ok, so a Watt is energy burned per second. If you flick on a 100 Watt light bulb it’s eating up 100 Joules of energy every second”

    1. Avatar for Ben Zientara Ben Zientara says:


      Watts are a measure of the constant energy needed to keep the lightbulb lit. Extending that amount over time doesn’t add watts; it just adds time. So a 100 watt lightbulb lit for 1 hour uses 100 “watt hours,” because you’ve kept that energy constant for that time period.

  5. Avatar for Peter Woo Peter Woo says:

    An apartment building with 14,400 square feet parking garage rooftop surface — how much KWH solar electricity can it generate on average day of 12 hours daylight if the entire rooftop is covered with good solar panels? Approximate answer?

  6. Avatar for Anonymous Anonymous says:

    Good enjoyable light hearted explanation. The part that reads “Joules per second per hour” should read, “Joules per second multiplied by one hour. It’s simply a measure of energy capacity provided by the solar panel.

    1. Avatar for Ben Zientara Ben Zientara says:

      Thanks, anon. On it.

  7. Avatar for john john says:

    how many panels would be needed to produce 200 kwh per day?

    1. Avatar for Ben Zientara Ben Zientara says:

      Well, depending on your location on the planet, you get about 4-5 kWh per kW of solar panels per day, on average. So you’re looking at a 40-50kW system, and you’d need about 125 of today’s most efficient 400W solar panels to make that system.

  8. Avatar for Anonymous Anonymous says:

    This was a Real long explanation….Kilowatt is 1000 watts. Kilowatt hours is 1000 watts used in an hour.

  9. Avatar for Szilárd Szilárd says:

    Damn, I made a mistake myself: 1 MW=1,000,000 W, not a thousand. The article is correct on that, although it still uses “mW” mistakenly.

  10. Avatar for Anonymous Anonymous says:

    WRONG; There are 24hrs in a day, not 6 hours. 1000 watts generated; (120v x 8.33amps) 1000 watts x 24 hrs=24kwh; 24kwh x 30 days= 720kwh for one month; cost if bought at $0.10 /khw is: 720kwh x 0.10 = $72.00 cost if bought at $0.30 /khw is: 720kwh x 0.30 = $216.00 @ current San Diego rip-off rates.

    1. Avatar for Ben Zientara Ben Zientara says:

      Yeah, but… the sun doesn’t shine for 24 hours. The number of peak-sun equivalent hours for San Diego is about 5.7 per day, on average (round up to 6), and you get 6 kWh per kW of solar per day, per kW of panels installed. After losses from wiring and inversion, you’re at about 5 kWh/kW.

      The average home in San Diego needs about 6,000 kWh per year, or about 16.5 per day, so you’re looking at a 3.3-kW system to make 6,000 kWh per year. Incidentally, you’re right about San Diego rip-off rates. SDG&E charges an INSANE price for electricity. Those 6,000 solar kWh can save you $1,800 per year.

      With a system cost of $3.50 per watt, you’ll pay a little over $8,000 after the tax credit, and those electric bill savings will have that paid off in year 5. Then it’s 20 more years of free electricity from your roof.

      1. Avatar for ISaac ISaac says:

        Ben…please explain how you have arrived to 3.3 Kw system and the previous 40-50 kw system for the earlier comment that needed 200kwh per day..i am yet to understand that concept.

  11. Avatar for Polonius Sage Polonius Sage says:

    This is why people don’t buy solar systems unless they just close their eyes and take a leap of faith. There’s more terminological confusion here than a Democratic Party convention. So, no, it’s not simple to explain these metrics, and that’s just the way utility companies, solar power companies, and government want it.

  12. Avatar for Lisa Lisa says:

    I think I get it !!! So if my panels are generating 1000 W when I look at the reading, and they do this for six hours, I’ve generated 6000 W or 6kW. So if I do this for 30 days I’ve created 180 kWh, right?

    1. Avatar for Ben Zientara Ben Zientara says:

      You’ve got it right, Lisa! Numbers in the real world are never that cut-and-dried, as generation is constantly in flux, but when we look at production, we do it exactly like you did, as an average of kWh over time.

  13. Avatar for Mr GGP Mr GGP says:

    WATT: A unit of power. (voltage x current). kWhr: A computational figure only; it is used by power companies to compute billings. EXAMPLE: A light bulb rated at 60 Watts is on continuously, consuming power that is billed at 10cents / kWhr. Since most billings are in kW hr (k=1000) increments, we must convert 60W into kWh: 60W/1000 = 0.06 kWh. NOTE: kWh is not a Watts/Power figure– it is just a figure to be multiplied by the TIME period (one month) AND the RATE (10c per kWhr) for use in a monthly billing, therefore, the final computation will be: 24hr x 30days = 720 x RATE @ $0.10/ kWhr = $7.20 for a 30 day billing.

  14. Avatar for Googleuser Googleuser says:

    Thank you. I was confused because watts is a unit of time and so watt-hour didnt make sense. The long explanation was much appreciated.

  15. Avatar for George Richard George Richard says:

    “A DAMNED up lake, although it has a HELL of a lot of pressure (voltage)”

    *LOL* I believe “dammed” is the word you seek. It’s plugged up, not condemned for all eternity.

    Still, the mention of Hell seven words later reminds me of that old joke questioning if Satan’s realm is exothermic or endothermic…

  16. Avatar for Solar Air Conditioner Solar Air Conditioner says:

    This long article will help its readers to understand the difference better. I was really confused with both this Kw and KWH. Your well explained example helped me to clear all my doubts.

  17. Avatar for Anonymous Anonymous says:

    I use between 58 and 60 Kwh per day. How many 100 watt solar panels do I need to at least cover 75% of my total power usage?

  18. Avatar for Coreen Gombos Coreen Gombos says:

    I have a generator how can i find the information about the power?

  19. Avatar for Chuck Chuck says:

    Okay, so then the bulb is already rated at how many watts it will use in an hour? Meaning if I’m using a 3 watt LED it will only consume 3 watts of energy over 60 minutes worth of time and therefore it’s watt-hour rating is 3?

    I’m desperately trying to understand this so I con’t get out in the back country and run out of power halfway through the evening and am stuck until the sun comes up to kiss my solar cells in the morning.

  20. Avatar for D D says:

    Here’s a better way to look at it:

    1 Watt (W) is a measure of electrical power.
    1 W = a specific rate of energy use/generation during a specific time period (e.g.: 1 Joule (J) per second (S)).
    1 J/S = 1 W/S

    1 Watt-hour (Wh) = a specific amount of energy used/generated in 1 hour (H). Since there are 3600 S/H (i.e. 60 S/min (M) x 60 M/H = 3600 S/H) and there is 1 W/S, we see that 1 Wh = 3600 W/S (i.e. 1 W/S x 3600 S = 3600 W)
    1 kWh = 1000 Wh (i.e 1 kilo (1000) x 1 Wh = 1 kWh)
    1 kWh = 3,600,000 W (i.e. 1 kilo (1000) x 3600 W = 3,600,000 W)

    A “60W” light bulb uses 60 W of energy in 1 hour. That is 60 W x 1 H = 60 Wh. Since we are billed in kWh, we must convert that into kWh as follows: 60/1000 = 0.06 kWh. If a person pays 10 cents (i.e. 0.10) per kWh, then it would cost her/him 0.006$ or 6/10 or 60% of a penny (0.06 x 0.10 = 0.006) to operate the light bulb for 1 hour. Energy cost for 1 month would be 4.32$ (i.e. .06 x .10 x 24 x 30 = 4.32$)

  21. Avatar for Ian Ian says:

    I THINK (please correct me if I am wrong) but if a solar system had 10 200 watt panels and peak solar sun time averaged 5 hours per day AND the inverter and the panels were able to actually OPERATE at the rated output of 2KW (10x200watt panels) then with 5hours per day of Solar sun the system would produce 10KWh (killowat HOURS) of energy available during that time. ALSO if during that day the power is produced then NO power in EXCESS of the hourly draw of 2KW could be drawn from the system. Is this right please?

  22. Avatar for Ray Ray says:

    I have an aquarium pump with a 70 watt capacity. I have a solar panel which outputs 17 volts dc and can charge a 12 volt car battery nicely. If I get an inverter, connect it to the battery charged by the solar panel will it run my pump 24 hours. I live in the Philippines so sun is no problem.

  23. Avatar for suhas suhas says:

    i have 30 incandescent bulbs of 60w each . show me calculation for kilowatts of energy used

  24. Avatar for Akinwumi Akinwumi says:

    Love dis site very much

  25. Avatar for Nabil Nabil says:

    I think KW and KWH are the same, as the load of 100 KW means it will consumes 100 KW if it runs for an hour… so I don’t agree with the above explanation
    plz refer this link

    1. Avatar for Dave Llorens Dave Llorens says:

      Hi Nabil,

      Think of kW like horsepower. You could have 100 kW panel, but if it’s in the dark, it is not going to produce even 1kWh over the course of an hour. But, in perfect conditions, that is what it could produce in an hour. There are some more complications than that as in what it will, in practice, produce, but you get the idea. Think of kW as horsepower of the system. But the car may be idling or off.

  26. Avatar for MARK MARK says:

    People often quote costs/kW when they are really talking about costs/kWh. Since these sound similar, they must be similar. Unfortunately, they are not.

  27. Avatar for confused confused says:

    Can someone help me figure something out? In trying to understand how a sample solar estimate came up with the number of panels it would need. Ok, so a home wants to eliminate 587 Kwhs per month.
    -Solar hours per day is 4.9 with the derate factored in.
    -Panel/inverter AC CEC watts is 197.8 with inverter efficiency considered
    -Kwh/mo/panel is 29
    -# of panels required is 20

    Ok for this particular type of panel brand…

    Sooo, I’m confused because I thought the goal was to have only enough panels to power your house for the Kwh per one day of what you want to elimate. But it seems the number of panels are for a months worth of usage.

    Can someone please explain this to me? Thanks!

  28. Avatar for Joy King Joy King says:

    Your explanation is wonderful, thank you! And thx to Sam Harriman too for his articulation on how capacity compares to generation….

  29. Avatar for Sam Harriman Sam Harriman says:

    Thanks for explaining this difficult concept Dave. Here’s a good excerpt from an article that John Hynes wrote for Renewable Energy World:

    Capacity versus Energy

    To learn how to compare technologies within a load factor category, one has to understand a number of terms and concepts, like the difference between capacity — measured in kilowatts (kW) or megawatts (MW) — and energy, measured in kilowatts-hours (kWh) or megawatt-hours (MWh). People often quote costs/kW when they are really talking about costs/kWh. Since these sound similar, they must be similar. Unfortunately, they are not.

    Capacity for a power plant (kW or MW) is probably best explained with a highway analogy. A 10-lane highway is able to allow more cars to get from one point to another in a given time period when compared to a three-lane highway. Likewise, a 1,000 MW power plant has the ability to put more energy, or MWh, to the grid in a given time period than a 500 MW power plant. The size of the highway is analogous to the capacity, or MW rating, of the power plant. The number of cars that pass from one point to another on the highway during a given time period is analogous to the energy, or MWh, that the power plant delivers during the same time period.

    So the more lanes on the highway, the more cars that can pass from one point to another in one hour. Therefore, the larger the power plant’s capacity, the more energy the plant can deliver to the grid in one hour.

    Now that we understand the difference between capacity and energy, we can begin to compare the costs of one power plant to another.

    Read the whole article here:

  30. Avatar for joe joe says:

    if i have a hair dryer rated at 1200 watts, and i use it for 20 min a day how many kilowatt-hours is this per day?

  31. Avatar for Penny Penny says:

    Hi! My dad has a grinding machine.
    Amperes: 180
    Phases: 3/380 V
    HP 75
    Price of electricity per kwh: 2.84 rupees .
    He wants to know how much electricity he pay for 1 hour? Can anyone help me,plz?

    1. Avatar for Yemi Yemi says:

      If 1horse power is equal to 746w
      Your machine is 75Hp…746*75=55950

  32. Avatar for SHAN SHAN says:

    ok. so kWh= kilowatts per hour used. a kilowat is 1000 watts, and a watt is a measurment of power.

  33. Avatar for matt matt says:

    how come power bills come as kwh instead of just kw?

  34. Avatar for Jon Jon says:

    I have a 3500sq foot of living space above ground and a 1500sq foot of living space in the basement finished. I average about 3500kwh a month. Does this sound about right, I have 3 gas furnaces heating the home, 3 air conditioners during the summer cooling the home, and of course all the lights and tv’s throughout the house. In the mid of last summer my bill was Almost $600.00 for the month, is there a solar panel/wind turbine system out there big enough that can run my house using this much electricity and if so, how much would a system like this cost?

  35. Avatar for Raveesh Raveesh says:

    why ups neutral cable is bigger(Guage) when compared to raw power neutral. please help me out to know this.

  36. Avatar for Dan Hahn Dan Hahn says:


    How much did you pay for electricity last month? If you feel you’re using about as much electricity as your neighbors, I’d compare power bills. If they are similar, perhaps you could jointly approach the power company with a request for clarification. Otherwise, I’d definitely look into a home energy audit. Even if you aren’t hemorrhaging electricity (which I think you might be), your auditor will probably be able to show you how to save more in power expenses than the audit costs. Either way, you save.

    Good luck and please give us an update. I’m sure you’re not the only one with a power bill like this.

  37. Avatar for DJ DJ says:

    Dan –
    No, my current energy used since the last meter reading is 3640 kWh – the statement shows my daily averages as: Current Month 117; Last Month 126 and Last year as 133 – granted, I am in Arizona and therefore have two a/c/heatpump units on the home, we use these to “zone” the usage. However, we have solar panels to heat our water so I am still baffled at the amount I am using. I can tell from your reaction this is still as extreme as I was thinking. Do you think it would be worth my while to find an energy auditor to check my home out or do you think SRP (the power co) should do some explaining?

  38. Avatar for Dan Hahn Dan Hahn says:


    That is a whole bunch of electricity per month. Are you propagating anything in your basement? If not (and you aren’t operating a theme park or live in a gigantic mansion), you might want to check your electric bill– again. Perhaps that was the amount you used in the past year.

  39. Avatar for DJ DJ says:

    My power bill says I am using 3640 kwh per month, but the national average I found on the web is only 780 Kilowatts per month for a 2500 sq foot house..why am I so far over?

  40. Avatar for Tracies Tracies says:

    How would I determine what size generator that can power my whole house, water well and central?

  41. Avatar for Tom Tom says:

    Eddy check this link out.

    Seems like your 120 KW turbine would produce about 210240 KWh a year which equates to about £21,000 worth of electricity (probably about $21,000 dollars to taking into account the differences in energy prices over here).

  42. Avatar for EDDY EDDY says:

    M realy confused!!! Can some1 tell me if a turbine has an output of 120 KW, what does it mean? does it mean, that it ll produce 120 KW of power per hr?

  43. Avatar for confused confused says:

    If I have a machine that says 4.37kW/24 hours, does that mean its kilowatt or power rating is 4.37/24=0.182kW, ie, it consumes 0.182kW of power every hour? Thanks in advance

  44. Avatar for Daniel Daniel says:

    Two questions, So if an appliance has a surge rating of 5000 watts and a surge time of 5 seconds (5/3600 of an hour) is the power used 6.94 Wh [.00694 kWh]?

    Are kWh or kW usage at a peak time more important when evaluating a solar or wind system capacity?

  45. Avatar for Nick Walker Nick Walker says:

    Can you convert a kilowatt to a kilowatt hour?

    1. Avatar for David Llorens David Llorens says:

      The are two different things. In the article it provides a good metaphor for thinking about the difference between the two.

      A kilowatt hour is is one kilowatt of power for one hour of time.

  46. Avatar for Joan Joan says:

    If I have a machine rated 480W. does that mean it burns 0.48kW per hour?

    1. Avatar for David Llorens David Llorens says:

      yes sir!

  47. Avatar for Joan Joan says:

    I have an oxygen generator which is rated 480Watts. 4.8 Amps. So if I run it for an hour am I using .48kW ? Trying to figure out how much electricity it uses in a 24 hour period. All help gratefully accepted. Thank you

  48. Avatar for David Llorens David Llorens says:


  49. Avatar for Dan Hahn Dan Hahn says:


    so let’s say I put in a 100 watt bulb, leave it on for two hours. My electric company here in Oregon is gonna charge me .20KwH? So that’s like two pennies? (.2 * $.09/KwH = $0.018)

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