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Definition

watt

The watt (abbreviated W) is the International System of Units' (SI) standard unit of power (energy per unit time), the equivalent of one jouleper second. The watt is used to specify the rate at which electrical energy isdissipated, or the rate at which electromagnetic energy is radiated, absorbed, or dissipated.

In DC (direct-current) and low-frequency AC (alternating current) electrical circuits andsystems, power is the product of the current and the voltage. Power is alsoproportional to the ratio of the square of the voltage to the resistance, and to the product of the resistanceand the square of the current. Consider a circuit in which the current, voltage, andresistance are all constant. If the current in amperes is represented by I,the voltage (or potential difference) in volts is represented by E, and theresistance in ohms is represented by R, then the following equations hold forpower in watts, represented by P:

P = EI

P = E2/R

P = I2R

In radio-frequency (RF) circuits and systems, the calculation of powerbecomes more complex. This is because, at high frequencies, AC is affected not onlyby resistance, but by reactance. Inthese situations, no simple formulas exist for the calculation of power. However,dissipated or radiated RF power in can be determined by direct measurement using aninstrument called an RF wattmeter.

In situations involving very high or very low power, prefix multipliersare commonly used to obtain power units. As the rate of dissipated or radiated powerincreases, one kilowatt (kW) is equal to 1000 W; one megawatt (MW) is equal to 106W; one gigawatt (GW) is equal to 109 W. As power decreases, one milliwatt(mW) is equal to 0.001 W; one microwatt (µW) is equal to 10-6 W; one nanowatt(nW) is equal to 10-9 W.

This was last updated in April 2005
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