Types of Energy Conversions

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  • 0:01 What Is Energy?
  • 1:12 Types of Energy
  • 2:32 Energy Conversions
  • 3:37 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 and what we mean when we say energy is 'conserved,' and give some examples of conversions between different types of energy.

What Is Energy?

Energy is hard to define. We have lots of ways of explaining it, but none of them are ideal. We know that energy is a property of objects that can be moved from one object to another, and from one type of energy to another. We know that when things move fast, they have a lot of energy. And when things are put in a position where they definitely will move if released, they have potential energy. But it's unclear exactly what energy 'is.'

In physics, we define energy as the ability of a system to do work. It's like a currency that can be used to make things happen. And unfortunately, that's probably the best thing explanation that we have.

But one thing's for sure: objects can have energy, and that energy can be calculated. And when we make that calculation, we discover something interesting: we discover that energy is conserved. Conservation of energy says that energy isn't created or destroyed, it can only move from one object to another, or from one type of energy to another.

For example, if you take a pool shot the energy from your arm caused the cue ball to move, which after the collision caused the target ball to move (assuming you didn't miss!).

Types of Energy

But if energy can transfer from one type to another, the next obvious question is: What types of energy are there?

Well, there are a lot of types of energy. There's kinetic (or movement) energy, gravitational potential (or stored) energy, elastic potential energy, chemical energy, light energy, sound energy, nuclear energy, mechanical energy, heat energy and many more.

Kinetic energy is movement energy - faster moving objects have more of it. Gravitational potential energy is energy stored in objects that are high up. For example, when you lift a ball up in the air, you're giving it gravitational potential energy. Elastic potential energy is energy stored in stretched rubber bands and springs. Chemical energy is energy stored in food, or gas for your car, or the chemicals in batteries. Light energy is energy inside light and sound energy is the energy carried by sound waves. Nuclear energy is the energy stored in the atom. Mechanical energy is energy in turning joints, like your elbows and the wheels of bicycles. Finally, heat energy is energy in the form of hot, fast moving molecules, like in a boiling pot of tea.

These are all fundamentally the same thing, and energy can be changed from any one of these types into the others.

Energy Conversions

Let's go through some examples of energy conversions. Let's say that a car is rolling down a hill with its engine turned off. What energy transfer is happening?

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