Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

How Much Power is 1 Gigawatt?

October 21, 2016

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Graphic by Sarah Harman | Energy Department

Graphic by Sarah Harman | Energy Department

It’s a date most movie buffs know by heart: October 21, 2015 – the day Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to the future in Stephen Spielberg’s 1989 classic “Back to the Future: Part II.”

Although you may not have remembered the date, you’ve probably heard of Doc’s DeLorean, which takes 1.21 gigawatts (GW) of power to travel through time. Admittedly, our national labs haven’t quite figured out time travel just yet, but they do analyze power.

For instance, at the end of 2015, there was a combined 100 GW of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power in the United States. To help put this number in perspective, it’s important to know just how big 1 gigawatt is. A watt is a measure of power and there’s 1 billion watts in 1 GW.  (And if you wanted to break it down even further, 1 million watts = 1 megawatt (MW) and 1,000 watts = 1 kilowatt (kW).)

Need a stronger visual? Here are six examples equal to 1 GW of power:

How Much Power is 1 Gigawatt?

 
4.6 Million PV Panels

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Based on the average panel size of 295 watts. (Source)

500 Utility-Scale Wind Turbines

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Based on the average utility-scale wind turbine size of 2 MW installed in 2015. (Source)

100 Million LED Bulbs

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Based on typical performance, a light-emitting diode (LED) A19 lamp is roughly 78 lumens per watt and consumes about 10 watts. (Source)

Roughly 1.3 Million Horses

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Based on horsepower to watts conversion: 746 watts = 1 horsepower.

2,000 Corvette Z06s

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According to the automaker's website, the Chevy Corvette Z06 engine delivers 650 horsepower. Two-thousand of those engines would equal 1.3 million horsepower, or 1 GW.

12,500 Nissan Leafs

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According to the automaker's website, the Nissan Leaf has an 80 kilowatt (kW) motor. So, 1 million kW divided by 80 kW = the maximum power of 12,500 Nissan Leafs.

Want to dig into other energy-related comparisons? Check out this interactive calculator that involves burritos and dynamite.