Exernalities and Public Goods > Facts About Energy

How Large is a Quadrillion BTU?

It's about equal to the amount of energy in 45 million tons of coal, or 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or 170 million barrels of crude oil. In 1988, total world energy consumption was about 1 quad every 26 hours.

To make this a bit less abstract, 45 million tons of coal would be a pile 10 feet thick, one mile wide and about 3.3 miles long. At 60 mph, it would take about 9 minutes to drive around the pile.

In terms of electricity, the energy content of 1 quad is equal to about 293 terawatt-hours or 33 gigawatt-years. However, a typical steam-turbine power plant burning fossil fuels is only able to capture about a third of the energy in the fuel, so 1 quad of fuel actually produces about 11 gigwatt-years of electricity.

See Also:

What is a BTU?
US Energy Consumption
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Peter J Wilcoxen, The Maxwell School, Syracuse University
Revised 03/25/2009