The kilowatt-hour (symbol kWh, kW⋅h or kW h) is a derived unit of energy equal to 3.6 megajoules. If the energy is being transmitted or used at a constant rate (power) over a period of time, the total energy in kilowatt-hours is the power in kilowatts multiplied by the time in hours. The kilowatt-hour is commonly used as a billing unit for energy delivered to consumers by electric utilities.
The kilowatt-hour (symbolized kW⋅h as per SI) is a composite unit of energy equivalent to one kilowatt (1 kW) of power sustained for one hour.
One watt is equal to 1 J/s. One kilowatt-hour is 3.6 megajoules, which is the amount of energy converted if work is done at an average rate of one thousand watts for one hour.
The base unit of energy within the International System of Units (SI) is the joule. The hour is a unit of time "outside the SI", making the kilowatt-hour a non-SI unit of energy. The kilowatt-hour is not listed among the non-SI units accepted by the BIPM for use with the SI, although the hour, from which the kilowatt-hour is derived, is.
An electric heater rated at 1000 watts (1 kilowatt), operating for one hour uses one kilowatt-hour (equivalent to 3.6 megajoules) of energy. A television rated at 100 watts operating for 10 hours continuously uses one kilowatt-hour. A 40-watt light bulb operating continuously for 25 hours uses one kilowatt-hour.
Electrical energy is sold in kilowatt-hours. The cost of running an electric device is calculated by multiplying the device's power in kilowatts, by the running time in hours, by the price per kilowatt-hour. The unit price of electricity may depend upon the rate of consumption and the time of day. Industrial users may also have extra charges according to their peak usage and the power factor.
Symbol and abbreviations for kilowatt-hour
Other abbreviations and symbols may be encountered:
- "kW h" is less commonly used. It is consistent with SI standards (but note that the kilowatt-hour is a non-SI unit). The international standard for SI states that in forming a compound unit symbol, "Multiplication must be indicated by a space or a half-high (centered) dot (·), since otherwise some prefixes could be misinterpreted as a unit symbol" (i.e., kW h or kW·h). This is supported by a voluntary standard issued jointly by an international (IEEE) and national (ASTM) organization. However, at least one major usage guide and the IEEE/ASTM standard allow "kWh" (but do not mention other multiples of the watt-hour). One guide published by NIST specifically recommends avoiding "kWh" "to avoid possible confusion".
- "kW·h" is, like "kW h", preferred with SI standards, but it is very rarely used in practice.
- The US official fuel-economy window sticker for electric vehicles uses the abbreviation "kW-hrs".
- Variations in capitalization are sometimes seen: KWh, KWH, kwh, etc. these are inconsistent with International System of Units.
- The notation "kW/h", as a symbol for kilowatt-hour, is not correct.
To convert a quantity measured in a unit in the left column to the units in the top row, multiply by the factor in the cell where the row and column intersect.
|1 J = 1 kg·m2 s−2 =||1||2.77778 × 10−4||2.77778 × 10−7||6.241 × 1018||0.239|
|1 W·h =||3.6 × 103||1||0.001||2.247 × 1022||859.8|
|1 kW·h =||3.6 × 106||1,000||1||2.247 × 1025||8.598 × 105|
|1 eV =||1.602 × 10−19||4.45 × 10−23||4.45 × 10−26||1||3.827 × 10−20|
|1 cal =||4.1868||1.163 × 10−3||1.163 × 10−6||2.613 × 1019||1|
Watt-hour multiples and billing units 
All the SI prefixes are commonly applied to the watt-hour: a kilowatt-hour is 1,000 W·h (symbols kW·h, kWh or kW h; a megawatt-hour is 1 million W·h, (symbols MW·h, MWh or MW h); a milliwatt-hour is 1/1000 W·h (symbols mW·h, mWh or mW h) and so on. The kilowatt-hour is commonly used by electrical distribution providers for purposes of billing, since the monthly energy consumption of a typical residential customer ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand kilowatt-hours. Megawatt-hours (MWh), gigawatt-hours (GWh), and terawatt-hours (TWh) are often used for metering larger amounts of electrical energy to industrial customers and in power generation. The terawatt-hour and petawatt-hour (PWh) units are large enough to conveniently express the annual electricity generation for whole countries.
Confusion of kilowatt-hours (energy) and kilowatts (power)
Power is measured using the unit watts, or joules per second. Energy is measured using the unit watt-hours, or joules.
A common household battery contains energy, but it does not contain power. When the battery delivers its energy, it does so at a certain power level. The higher the power level, the quicker the battery's stored energy is delivered. The battery's stored energy will be depleted in a shorter time period, if the power is higher. Power is the rate of delivery of energy.
For a given period of time, a higher level of power causes more energy to be used. For a given power level, a longer run period causes more energy to be used. For a given amount of energy, a higher level of power causes that energy to be used is less time.
An electrical load (e.g. a lamp, TV-set, or electric motor) has a rated power, which is usually measured in watts. This is its running power level, which equates to the instantaneous rate at which energy must be generated and consumed to run the device. The amount of energy that is consumed (at that rate) depends on how long the device is operated. However, its power requirement is constant while running. The unit of energy used for residential electrical billing, the kilowatt-hour, shows the cumulative amount of electrical energy used during the billing period, regardless of the power drawn at any moment during the billing period.
For another example, when a light bulb with a power rating of 100 watts is turned on for one hour, the energy used is 100 watt-hours (W·h), which is equal to 0.1 kilowatt-hours. This same amount of energy would light a 50-watt bulb for 2 hours, a 40-watt bulb for 2.5 hours, or a 10-watt bulb for 10 hours. A power station's electricity output at any particular moment would be measured in multiples of watts, but its annual energy sales would be in multiples of watt-hours. A kilowatt-hour is the amount of energy equivalent to a steady power of 1 kilowatt running for 1 hour, or 3.6 megajoules.
Energy cost can be illustrated in a similar example: a 100-watt (i.e. 0.1 kilowatt) light bulb turned on for 8 hours uses 800 W⋅h or 0.8 kW⋅h. If the energy cost is 25 cents per kilowatt-hour, it would cost 0.1 kW × 8 h × $0.25/kW⋅h = $0.20.
Whereas individual homes only pay for the kilowatt-hours consumed, commercial buildings and institutions also pay for peak power consumption, the greatest power recorded in a fairly short time, such as 15 minutes. This compensates the power company for maintaining the infrastructure needed to provide peak power. These charges are billed as demand charges.
Major energy production or consumption is often expressed as terawatt-hours (TW⋅h) for a given period that is often a calendar year or financial year. One terawatt-hour is equal to a sustained power of approximately 114 megawatts for a period of one year.
Misuse of watts per hour
Power units measure the rate of energy per unit time. Many compound units for rates explicitly mention units of time, for example, miles per hour, kilometers per hour, dollars per hour. Kilowatt-hours are a product of power and time, not a rate of change of power with time. Watts per hour (W/h) is a unit of a change of power per hour. It might be used to characterize the ramp-up behavior of power plants. For example, a power plant that reaches a power output of 1 MW from 0 MW in 15 minutes has a ramp-up rate of 4 MW/h. Hydroelectric power plants have a very high ramp-up rate, which makes them particularly useful in peak load and emergency situations.
The proper use of terms such as watts per hour is uncommon, whereas misuse may be widespread.
Several other units are commonly used to indicate power or energy capacity or use in specific application areas.
Average annual power production or consumption can be expressed in kilowatt-hours per year; for example, when comparing the energy efficiency of household appliances whose power consumption varies with time or the season of the year, or the energy produced by a distributed power source. One kilowatt-hour per year equals about 114.08 milliwatts applied constantly during one year.
The energy content of a battery is usually expressed indirectly by its capacity in ampere-hours; to convert watt-hours (W·h) to ampere hour (A·h), the watt-hour value must be divided by the voltage of the power source. This value is approximate, since the voltage is not constant during discharge of a battery, and because higher discharge rates reduce the total amount of energy the battery can provide. In the case of devices that output a different voltage than the battery, it is the battery voltage (typically 3.7 for Li-ion) that must be used to calculate rather than the device output (usually 5.0 for USB portable chargers), since use of the lower figure allows manufacturers of such devices to overstate the capacity or run-time, inflating it by 35% ( 5⁄3.7=1.35). This results in a 500mA USB device running for only about 3.7 hours on a 2500mAh battery, rather than the expected five hours.
The Board of Trade unit (BOTU) is an obsolete UK synonym for kilowatt-hour. The term derives from the name of the Board of Trade which regulated the electricity industry until 1942 when the Ministry of Power took over. The B.O.T.U. should not be confused with the British thermal unit or BTU, which is a much smaller quantity of thermal energy.
Burnup of nuclear fuel is normally quoted in megawatt days per tonne (MW·d/MTU), where tonne refers to a metric ton of uranium metal or its equivalent, and megawatt refers to the entire thermal output, not the fraction which is converted to electricity.
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Reference [4: ISO 31-0] suggests that if a space is used to indicate units formed by multiplication, the space may be omitted if it does not cause confusion. This possibility is reflected in the common practice of using the symbol kWh rather than kW · h or kW h for the kilowatt-hour. Nevertheless, this Guide takes the position that a half-high dot or a space should always be used to avoid possible confusion;
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