Kilowatt to megawatt conversion explained
Kilowatt to megawatt conversion explained
When you begin looking into solar panels as an alternative energy source, you’re going to notice wattage mentioned frequently. As the main unit that drives electricity, it plays a major role. And particularly for your home system, it’s helpful to know how to convert kilowatts to megawatts.
But with so many abbreviations and uses, how do you know where to start? In this article we break down the basic equation and even provide a handy conversion chart. We’ll also talk about the benefits of working with kilowatts and megawatts. Let’s get started.
When converting kilowatts (kW) to megawatts (MW), know that 1,000kW equals 1MW. These are the primary units that you’ll use when measuring solar output. Both of them rely on wattage as their base unit which represents the speed at which electricity is used or produced.
Watts: how we measure electricity
When talking about energy usage, wattage is the primary way of measuring it. It tells us how fast something is using or creating electricity.
For example, if you turn on a speaker at medium volume, it might use 50 watts. But if you wanted to play your music louder (which would need more power), it may require 100 watts.
So when you see wattage—from the basic watt to gigawatts or more—the higher the number, the quicker the power moves. Let’s break these units down some more.
The basic unit of measurement, watts (W) show us how much energy is moving along a current in a given period of time. For example, a 100W lightbulb will use 100 watts of power in one hour.
The next unit of measurement, a kilowatt (kW) is made up of 1,000 watts. You’ll find this unit more commonly referenced with larger appliances, such as heaters and air conditioners, which can range from about 1.5 to 4kW an hour.
Kilowatts are also used to measure the output of your solar panels. When you see a solar array rated for 6kW, this means it can produce 6 kW or 6,000 watts of electricity per hour under ideal conditions.
One megawatt (MW) is made up of 1,000 kilowatts, or 1 million watts. This unit of measurement is typically used by large companies or power plants to reference their electrical usage or output. As far as residential solar panels go, you can expect to create about 1MW a month2.
When you get into gigawatts (GW), you’re typically looking at statewide capacity. At 1,000 megawatts (that’s a billion watts), you have enough solar energy to power 173,000 homes1. Across the United States, we have a total capacity of 149.5GW of solar (installed through 2022), led by3:
North Carolina: 8.1GW
How to convert kilowatts to megawatts
Based on the metric system, converting kilowatts to megawatts requires only simple math. To do this, divide your kilowatt value by 1,000.
For example. If you used 10,000 kilowatts in a year and you wanted to find your megawatt value, your math would look like this:
10,000kW / 1,000 = 10MW
So how do I convert megawatts to kilowatts?
If you want to convert megawatts to kilowatts, you’ll just do the opposite. In this equation, multiply your megawatt value by 1,000.
Let’s say you receive your monthly utility bill and it states you used 1.32MW. To help you understand how much power was used, you might convert that to kilowatts like this:
1.32MW x 1,000 = 1,320kW
Kilowatts to megawatts conversion table
The difference between kilowatts and megawatts can feel huge (even moreso between watts and gigawatts). To simplify the process, refer to this conversion table.
Kilowatt vs kilowatt hour
When comparing kilowatts to kilowatt hours, they might look the same, but they have minor differences. Kilowatt refers to the amount of power being used or created, and kilowatt hour refers to the power used in one hour.
For example, your rice cooker at home tells you that it uses 400W. This is the measurement that it uses if it were to run for an hour, but when you cook rice, it’s usually for only 20 minutes. Therefore, your 400W rice cooker may only require ~133W (one-third of 400W) every time you use it.
On the other hand, your electric bill typically arrives with a reading in kWh. This metric tells you how many hours in a month that you used 1kW of energy. Utility companies use kilowatt hours to simplify their billing process.
How many kilowatts do I need to power my home?
Understanding kilowatts and kilowatt hours help us properly size a solar panel system for our homes. To do so, we’ll take our daily power usage and divide it by the amount of peak sun in our area. Here’s an example:
In California, homeowners typically use around 18.1kWh per day (or 542kWh a month)6. When we divide that by the Golden State’s average sunlight of 5 hours7, we learn that a solar panel system needs to produce 3.6kW an hour to support electricity needs.
NOTE: The above example assumes the use of net energy metering or batteries to support power needs in winter months. For assistance with these aspects and more, it’s wise to consult the pros. You can trust Sunrun’s expert Solar Advisors to guide you along your solar journey.
Why are solar panel systems sold in kilowatts?
When you learn about standard rates for solar panels, they’re typically priced by the watt. This helps compare the cost across different sized systems. However, because one kilowatt equals 1,000 watts, it’s much easier to say you’re purchasing a 6kW array rather than a 6,000W one.
Why megawatts are important
Most of how we use solar energy will be measured in kilowatts; from the amount of power we require to the total output of our array, we hardly ever break into megawatts. Even over the course of a year, we may only produce around 10MW total2. So why are megawatts important?
Depending on where you live, you may have access to performance payment programs involving solar renewable energy credits (SRECs)4. Provided that you own your solar panel system outright, you can sell your SRECs to utility companies for a small profit.
One of these solar credits represents 1MW of energy created, recognized by the state you live in. They typically hold a value of around $50-$75 each. That means if your solar panels produce 10MW in a year, you could earn $500-$750.
Want to learn more?
Knowing how to convert kilowatts to megawatts makes it easier to understand the wide range of numbers involved. With a grasp on electrical use and generation, you can save money on power, accurately size a solar array, and even earn a paycheck.
Rest-assured, we're here to simplify the process for you. Our expert Solar Advisors guide you through the complexities and details of solar—from understanding your energy bills, sizing your ideal system, and more.
As the nation's #1 home solar & battery installer, we provide dedicated support from initial system design to powering on your system. Our personalized approach ensures that you make the right decisions about system size, enabling you to harness the full potential of solar energy without the stress.