Energy: Definition & Types

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  • 0:00 Definition of Energy
  • 0:56 Types of Energy
  • 2:25 Some Examples of Energy
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After completing this lesson, you will be able to explain what energy is, list various types of energy, and identify which type or types of energy are present in a situation.

Definition of Energy

What is it like to have a lot of energy? When little kids run around a playground endlessly, never slowing down, we say they have a lot of energy. When a battery lasts a really long time, we say that it stores a lot of energy. And some people drink energy drinks when they need more energy. The animal food web that we're a part of actually is a giant network of energy being transferred.

But what is energy? Answering that question is surprisingly hard, because it comes in a lot of different forms. Energy can be stored in food. Energy can be related to movement. But what about nuclear energy, or sound energy, or light energy? These all seem a little bit different.

The physics definition of energy is that it's the ability to do work. Energy is like a currency that can be spent when we want to do work. If we have plenty of energy in our bodies, we can apply more forces over longer distances and do more work than if we had less energy.

Types of Energy

We've already talked about a few of the types of energy. But let's go through some more.

Kinetic energy is the kind of energy we all know about: movement energy. The faster you move, the more kinetic energy you have. A variation on kinetic energy is mechanical energy, which is movement energy when something turns around a pivot, like an arm bending, or a wheel spinning, or an engine cranking.

Chemical energy is another obvious one. The food that you ate contained the energy you needed to do that movement. So chemical energy is energy stored in chemicals, like the food we eat or the gas we put in a car.

Potential energy is a general term for any kind of stored energy. Chemical energy could be called chemical potential energy. When you stretch a rubber band, you're storing elastic potential energy in the spring. And when you lift a ball high in the air, you're giving it gravitational potential energy. We know this, because of what happens when you let go. When you let go of a rubber band, it springs back and that energy is released and when you drop a ball, it falls towards the ground.

A few of them are pretty clear from their names: Sound energy is the energy in sound. Light energy is the energy inside light, including invisible kinds of light, like infrared, radio waves, or microwaves. Electrical energy is energy transferred by electricity. And heat energy is the energy emitted through heat. There are many other kinds of energy we could talk about, but these are some of the most important ones.

Some Examples of Energy

One of the goals of this lesson is to be able to name the kind of energy in a situation. So let's go through some examples of that.

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