May 22, 2014

Where Does Your Electricity Come From, And What Does It Look Like?

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Jordan Wirfs-Brock/Inside Energy

An average American household uses 903 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per month, enough energy to put your Volkswagen bug into space (if you were incredibly motivated).

Where does that electricity come from?

In the U.S., 37% of our electricity is generated from coal and 30% from natural gas. The rest comes from nuclear and renewables (hydro, wind, solar). These energy sources vary widely from region to region.   In Wyoming, an Inside Energy partner state and the country’s top coal producer, 89% of electricity comes from coal; in Washington state, the country’s top hydroelectric producer, 62% comes from dams.

To generate one kWh of energy (the amount of energy you would need to run something that draws one kilowatt for one hour), you’d need:

  • 1.09 pounds of coal, or
  • 7.86 cubic feet of natural gas

That’s 984.27 pounds of coal or 7,098 cubic feet of natural gas a month for an average American home per month.

What does 984 pounds of coal look like?

984 pounds of coal is roughly 20 cubic feet.  How big is 20 cubic feet? Roughly the size of your standard home refrigerator.



What does 7,000 cubic feet of natural gas look like?

You’d need 7,000 cubic feet of natural gas, or more than enough to fill a freight-train boxcar, to produce enough electricity to meet an average American home’s monthly needs.

That’s also enough natural gas to fill a standard, 875-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment.


  • Swiftright Right

    Using the darkest energies from the deepest voal mines I’m going to attempt to necro this thread so I can ask,.

    Can you give me some idea of the water/ water flow to produce that from hydro or the amount of nuclear material needed?