kw and kWh Explained

What’s the difference between a Kw and a Kwh? When your local solar contractor is tempting you to buy a complete solar solution, you’re probably trying to understand as much as possible before making the plunge. This question is one that puzzles many people, so here’s the scoop:

First, ‘kilo-Watts’ are a power measurement, while ‘kilo-Watt-hours’ are an energy measurement. Huh? Well, ‘energy’ is referring to a measurement of how much fuel something contains or may use or generate over a period of time, just like when people on diets talk about calories (another measurement of energy). ‘Power’ measures the speed at which energy is used or made. This can be a bit confusing, but read on.

For the purpose of conversations relating to solar energy, that energy is typically measured in kWh (kilo-Watt-hours) – sometimes mWh’s (for mega-Watt-hours in big installations).

And power is typically measured in kW (kilo-Watts).

kW vs kWhA simple example will help to illustrate the difference: A solar panel may generate 250 Watts (or 0.25kW) of power when the sun shines on it. No matter how long the sun shines, 250 Watts will be the power output from the panel (more or less – this is a complicated area, but for now we’ll just say it’s 250). When the sun goes down, the panel stops functioning and 0 Watts are produced. However, if you want to know how much energy this same panel will produce, we need to consider a time factor – how many kWh’s can the same panel deliver in, say, 1 month? To answer this, we need to know how many hours the panel is generating power for each day during the month. Let’s estimate 5 hours per day, for 30 days. This means the panel will deliver 250 (Watts) x 5 (hours) x 30 (days) = 37,500 Watt-hours in a month – we can divide this big number by 1,000 so it’s easier to read. This makes it kilo-Watt-hours – the panel makes about 37.5 kWh’s of electrical energy per month.

Simple, right?