Energy & Infrastructure

What the heck is a gigawatt?

Staff Reports

The secret to time travel in the popular 1980s movie Back to the Future was 1.21 gigawatts of electricity.

When the eccentric scientist Dr. Emmet Brown could not obtain plutonium in the film’s dramatic ending, he was able to harness the gigawatts from the only other available source – a bolt of lightning – sending Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) back to the future!

Without fact checking the movie in too much detail, a gigawatt is a real measure of power. A gigawatt is equal to one billion watts, and most of us are familiar with a watt. The light bulbs in our homes are typically between 60 and 100 watts. So 1.21 gigawatts would power more than 10 million light bulbs or one fictional flux capacitor in a time-traveling DeLorean.

Head spinning yet? The solar installations Williams is planning will generate between 1 megawatt and 40 megawatts per day depending on the energy needs of the adjacent facility. To put that in easy terms, a 1 megawatt solar installation produces enough electricity for 330 homes. Keep in mind that the actual energy output of solar installation varies based on the amount of sunlight on a given day.

The other, much larger way Williams plays a role in making electricity is by sending natural gas to power generation plants around the United States. The natural gas heats water that produces steam which turns giant turbines, thus creating electricity. Natural gas-powered plants are quickly replacing coal-fired plants because they are much cleaner.

More about how electricity is made.