The watt (pronounced /ˈwɒt/ wot; symbol: W) is a derived unit of power in the International System of Units (SI), named after the Scottish engineer James Watt (1736–1819). The unit, defined as one joule per second, measures the rate of energy conversion.



  • One watt is the rate at which work is done when an object's velocity is held constant at one meter per second against constant opposing force of one newton.
\mathrm{W = \frac{J}{s} = \frac{N\cdot m}{s} = \frac{kg\cdot m^2}{s^3}}
\mathrm{W = V \cdot A}
Two additional unit conversions for watt can be found using the above equation and Ohm's Law.
\mathrm{W = \frac{V^2}{\Omega} = A^2\cdot\Omega}
Where ohm (Ω) is the SI derived unit of electrical resistance.


A person having a mass of 100 kilograms who climbs a 3 meter high ladder in 5 seconds is doing work at a rate of about 600 watts. Mass times acceleration due to gravity times height divided by the time it takes to lift the object to the given height gives the rate of doing work or power. A laborer over the course of an 8-hour day can sustain an average output of about 75 watts; higher power levels can be achieved for short intervals and by athletes.[1]

A medium-sized passenger automobile engine is rated at 50–150 kilowatts[2] – while cruising it will typically yield half that amount. A typical household incandescent light bulb has a power rating of 25 to 100 watts; fluorescent lamps typically consume 5 to 30 watts to produce a similar amount of light.

A typical coal power station produces around 600-700 megawatts.

Origin and adoption as an SI unit

The watt is named after James Watt for his contributions to the development of the steam engine. The unit was recognized by the Second Congress of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1882. The 11th General Conference on Weights and Measures in 1960 adopted it for the measurement of power into the International System of Units (SI).


For additional examples of magnitude for multiples and submultiples of the Watt, see Orders of magnitude (power)
SI multiples for watt (W)
Submultiples Multiples
Value Symbol Name Value Symbol Name
10−1 W dW deciwatt 101 W daW decawatt
10−2 W cW centiwatt 102 W hW hectowatt
10−3 W mW milliwatt 103 W kW kilowatt
10−6 W µW microwatt 106 W MW megawatt
10−9 W nW nanowatt 109 W GW gigawatt
10−12 W pW picowatt 1012 W TW terawatt
10−15 W fW femtowatt 1015 W PW petawatt
10−18 W aW attowatt 1018 W EW exawatt
10−21 W zW zeptowatt 1021 W ZW zettawatt
10−24 W yW yoctowatt 1024 W YW yottawatt
Common multiples are in bold face


The femtowatt is equal to one quadrillionth (10−15) of a watt. Technologically important powers that are measured in femtowatts are typically found in reference(s) to radio and radar receivers. For example, FM tuner performance figures for sensitivity/quieting and signal-to-noise require that the RF energy applied to the antenna input be specified in order to be meaningful. These input levels are often stated in dBf (decibels referenced to 1 femtowatt which is equal to 0.2739 microvolt across a 75 ohm load or 0.5477 microvolt across a 300 ohm load) so that the specification takes into account the RF input impedance of the tuner.


The picowatt is equal to one trillionth (10−12) of a watt. Technologically important powers that are measured in picowatts are typically used in reference to radio and radar receivers, and also in the science of radio astronomy.


The nanowatt is equal to one billionth (10−9) of a watt. A surface area of one square meter on Earth receives one nanowatt of power from a single star of apparent magnitude +3.5. Important powers that are measured in nanowatts are also typically used in reference to radio and radar receivers.


The microwatt is equal to one millionth (10−6) of a watt. Important powers that are measured in microwatts are typically stated in medical instrumentation systems such as the EEG and the EKG, in a wide variety of scientific and engineering instruments and also in reference to radio and radar receivers. Compact solar cells for devices such as calculators and watches are typically measured in microwatts.[3]


The milliwatt is equal to one thousandth (10−3) of a watt. A typical laser pointer outputs about five milliwatts of light power, whereas a typical hearing aid for people consumes less than one milliwatt.[4]


The kilowatt is equal to one thousand (103) watts. This unit is typically used to express the output power of engines and the power consumption of electric motors, tools, machines, and heaters. It is also a common unit used to express the electromagnetic power output of broadcast radio and television transmitters.

One kilowatt of power is approximately equal to 1.34 horsepower. A small electric heater with one heating element can use 1.0 kilowatt, which is equivalent to the power consumption of a household in the United States averaged over the entire year (8900 kWh divided by 365×24 hours).[5] (UK household consume about half this amount)[6] Also, kilowatts of light power can be measured in the output pulses of some lasers.


The megawatt is equal to one million (106) watts. Many events or machines produce or sustain the conversion of energy on this scale, including lightning strikes; large electric motors; large warships such as aircraft carriers, cruisers, and submarines; large server farms or data centers; and some scientific research equipment, such as supercolliders, and also in the output pulses of very large lasers. A large residential or commercial building may consume several megawatts in electric power and heat.

The productive capacity of electrical generators operated by a utility company is often measured in megawatts. On railways, modern high-powered electric locomotives typically have a peak power output of 5 or 6 MW, although some produce much more. The Eurostar, for example, consumes more than 12 MW, while heavy diesel-electric locomotives typically produce/consume 3 to 5 MW. U.S. nuclear power plants have net summer capacities between about 500 and 1300 MW.[7]

The earliest citing of the megawatt in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a reference in the 1900 Webster's International Dictionary of English Language. The OED also states that megawatt appeared in a 28 November 1947 article in the journal Science (506:2).


The gigawatt is equal to one billion (109) watts or 1 gigawatt = 1000 megawatts. This unit is sometimes used for large power plants or power grids. For example, by the end of 2010 power shortages in China's Shanxi province were expected to increase to 5–6 GW[8] and the installed capacity of wind power in Germany was 25.8 GW.[9] The largest unit (out of four) of the Belgian Nuclear Plant Doel has a peak output of 1.04 GW.[10]

Though “gigawatt” is usually pronounced today with a hard initial "g", the “j” variant is also accepted (see giga-#Pronunciation).[11][12]


The terawatt is equal to one trillion (1012) watts. The total power used by humans worldwide (about 16 TW in 2006) is commonly measured in this unit. The most powerful lasers from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s produced power in terawatts, but only for nanosecond time frames. The average strike of lightning peaks at 1 terawatt, but these strokes only last for 30 microseconds.


The petawatt is equal to one quadrillion (1015) watts and can be produced by the current generation of lasers for time-scales on the order of femtoseconds (10−15 s). Based on the average of 1.366 kW/m2 of total solar irradiance[13] the total energy flow of sunlight striking Earth's atmosphere is estimated at 174 PW (cf. Solar Constant).

Electrical and thermal watts

In the electric power industry, megawatt electrical (abbreviation: MWe[14] or MWe[15]) is a term that refers to electric power, while megawatt thermal or thermal megawatt[16] (abbreviations: MWt, MWth, MWt, or MWth) refers to thermal power produced. Other SI prefixes are sometimes used, for example gigawatt electrical (GWe).[notes 1]

For example, the Embalse nuclear power plant in Argentina uses a fission reactor to generate 2109 MWt of heat, which creates steam to drive a turbine, which generates 648 MWe of electricity. The difference is due to the inefficiency of steam-turbine generators and the limitations of the theoretical Carnot Cycle.

Confusion of watts, watt-hours, and watts per hour

The terms power and energy are frequently confused. Power is the rate at which energy is generated or consumed.

For example, when a light bulb with a power rating of 100W is turned on for one hour, the energy used is 100 watt-hours (W•h), 0.1 kilowatt-hour, or 360 kJ. This same amount of energy would light a 40-watt bulb for 2.5 hours, or a 50-watt bulb for 2 hours. A power station would be rated 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 MJ.

Terms such as watts per hour are often misused.[17] Watts per hour properly refers to the change of power per hour. Watts per hour (W/h) might be useful 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.

Major energy production or consumption is often expressed as terawatt-hours 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.

The watt second is a unit of energy, equal to the joule. One kilowatt-hour is 3,600,000 watt-seconds. The watt-second is used, for example, to rate the energy storage of flash lamps used in photography.

See also


  1. ^ 'Megawatt electrical' and 'megawatt thermal' are not SI units, Thompson and Taylor 2008, Guide for the Use of the International System of Units (SI), NIST Special Publication SP811. The International Bureau of Weights and Measures states that unit symbols should not use subscripts to provide additional information about the quantity being measured, and regards these symbols as incorrect. International Bureau of Weights and Measures. (2006). The International System of Units (SI). 132.


  1. ^ Eugene A. Avallone et. al, (ed), Marks' Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers 11th Edition , Mc-Graw Hill, New York 2007 ISBN 0-07-142867-4 page 9-4
  2. ^ See examples in "Parkers for the smarter car buyer". Parkers. http://www.parkers.co.uk/. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  3. ^ Bye-Bye Batteries: Radio Waves as a Low-Power Source
  4. ^ Trudy Stetzler, Neeraj Magotra, Pedro Gelabert, Preethi Kasthuri, Sridevi Bangalore. "Low-Power Real-Time Programmable DSP Development Platform for Digital Hearing Aids". Datasheet Archive. http://www.datasheetarchive.com/datasheet-pdf/019/DSA00333218.html. Retrieved 8 February 2010. 
  5. ^ "The Physics Factbook". http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2003/BoiLu.shtml. Retrieved 17 February 2009. 
  6. ^ "Typical domestic energy consumption figures". Ofgem. 18 January 2011. http://www.ofgem.gov.uk/Media/FactSheets/Documents1/domestic%20energy%20consump%20fig%20FS.pdf. Retrieved 11 November 2011. 
  7. ^ "2007–2008 Information Digest, Appendix A". Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 2007. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr1350/v19/sr1350v19.pdf. Retrieved 27 January 2008. 
  8. ^ "China's Shanxi to face 5-6 GW power shortage by yr-end-paper". Reuters. 11 November 2010. http://in.reuters.com/article/idINTOE6AA0AD20101111. 
  9. ^ "Not on my beach, please". The Economist. 19 August 2010. http://www.economist.com/node/16846774. 
  10. ^ "Chiffres clés". Electrabel. 2011. http://www.electrabel.com/whoarewe/nuclear/keyfigures_doel.aspx. 
  11. ^ "definition and pronunciation of gigawatt". Merriam-Webster Feb 2008. 25 April 2007. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gigawatt. Retrieved 8 March 2010. 
  12. ^ "A Practical Guide to the International System of Units, U.S. Metric Association, Feb 2008". Lamar.colostate.edu. 5 April 2006. http://lamar.colostate.edu/~hillger/si-prefixes.html. Retrieved 8 March 2010. 
  13. ^ "Construction of a Composite Total Solar Irradiance (TSI) Time Series from 1978 to present". http://www.pmodwrc.ch/pmod.php?topic=tsi/composite/SolarConstant. Retrieved 2005-10-05. 
  14. ^ Cleveland, C. J. (2007). "Watt". Encyclopedia of Earth. http://www.eoearth.org/article/Watt. 
  15. ^ "How Many? A Dictionary of Units of Measurement". http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/dictM.html. 
  16. ^ "Solar Energy Grew at a Record Pace in 2008 (excerpt from EERE Network News - U.S. Department of Energy)". 25 March 2009. http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/news/news_detail.cfm/news_id=12362. 
  17. ^ "Inverter Selection". Northern Arizona Wind and Sun. http://www.windsun.com/Inverters/Inverter_selection.htm. Retrieved 27 March 2009. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • watt — watt …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • watt — [ wat ] n. m. • 1881; du nom de l ingénieur J. Watt ♦ Unité de mesure de puissance mécanique ou électrique, de flux thermique et de flux d énergie rayonnante (symb. W), équivalant à un transfert d énergie de 1 joule en 1 seconde. ⇒aussi kilowatt …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Watt — steht für: Watt (Einheit), eine physikalische Einheit, benannt nach James Watt Watt (Küste), den Bereich eines Wattenmeeres, der bei Niedrigwasser trockenliegt Watt (Bodentyp); den Bodentyp der Wattflächen in der Deutschen Bodensystematik Watt… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Watt's — S.A. es una empresa de alimentos y lácteos de Chile. Muy famosa por sus conocidos néctar y mermelada. También posee las marcas lácteas Loncoleche y Calo,es muy reconocida por su calidad. Contenido 1 Cronología 2 Negocios 3 Empresas Relacionadas …   Wikipedia Español

  • WATT (J.) — WATT JAMES (1736 1819) Ingénieur et mécanicien écossais, né à Greenock et mort à Heathfield, près de Birmingham. Responsable, à l’université de Glasgow, de l’entretien des instruments de physique, Watt a l’occasion de réparer, en 1764, une pompe… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • watt — WATT, waţi, s.m. (fiz.) Unitate de măsură a puterii egală cu puterea care corespunde schimbului de energie sau lucrului mecanic de un joule într o secundă. – Din fr., engl. watt. Trimis de cata, 27.02.2002. Sursa: DEX 98  WATT s. (fiz.) (pop.)… …   Dicționar Român

  • watt — s.m.inv. TS fis., metrol. nel Sistema Internazionale, unità di misura della potenza elettrica, equivalente al lavoro di un joule al secondo (simb. W) {{line}} {{/line}} DATA: 1895. ETIMO: da Watt, nome dello scienziato e inventore scozzese James… …   Dizionario italiano

  • Watt — Watt, n. [From the distinguished mechanician and scientist, James Watt.] (Physics) A unit of power or activity equal to 10^{7} C.G.S. units of power, or to work done at the rate of one joule a second. An English horse power is approximately equal …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • watt — [wɔt US wa:t] n written abbreviation W or w [Date: 1800 1900; Origin: James Watt] a unit for measuring electrical power ▪ a 100 watt bulb …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • watt — {{hw}}{{watt}}{{/hw}}(fis.) Unità di misura della potenza equivalente al lavoro di 1 joule in 1 secondo; SIMB. W. ETIMOLOGIA: dal nome dell inventore, l ingegnere scozzese J. Watt (1736 1819) …   Enciclopedia di italiano

  • Watt — Watt, James (1736 1819) a British engineer who made important improvements to the steam engine. The measure of electrical power, the watt, is named after him …   Dictionary of contemporary English

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