What Is An Example Of Energy The Ability To Do Work?

Energy is defined as the ability to do work. Work occurs when a force moves an object, and energy is what enables that force to cause motion. There are many different forms of energy, but they can be divided into two main categories: kinetic energy and potential energy.

Kinetic energy is the energy of motion. Any moving object has kinetic energy proportional to its mass and velocity squared. The faster or more massive an object is, the more kinetic energy it possesses. Potential energy is stored energy based on an object’s position or composition. For example, a ball held above the ground has gravitational potential energy ready to be converted into kinetic energy when released.

Kinetic Energy

Kinetic energy is the energy of motion. Any object that is moving has kinetic energy. The amount of kinetic energy depends on the mass and speed of the object. The faster the object moves, the more kinetic energy it has. Some common examples of kinetic energy include:

  • A ball rolling down a hill
  • A bicycle in motion
  • Wind blowing
  • Waves in the ocean
  • A running animal

The kinetic energy of an object increases as its speed increases. For example, a car moving at 60 mph has more kinetic energy than the same car moving at 30 mph. This is because the faster the car moves, the more work it can do by virtue of its motion. Kinetic energy is directly proportional to the object’s mass and the square of its velocity.

Potential Energy

Potential energy is energy stored within a physical system, resulting from its position or arrangement. It is the energy an object has because of where it is or because of its condition.

Some common examples of potential energy include:

  • A wound up spring. When a spring is compressed or stretched, it stores elastic potential energy.
  • Water held behind a dam. The water has gravitational potential energy because of its elevated position.
  • Chemical energy stored in batteries. This comes from the chemical bonds and reactions between molecules.
  • An object held up high above the ground. The object has gravitational potential energy due to gravity’s effect on its height.
  • Atoms that have been separated. They contain nuclear potential energy that can be released if combined.

In all these examples, energy gets stored in an object or system until the time it is released and converted into kinetic energy.

Chemical Energy

Chemical energy is the energy stored in the bonds between atoms that make up molecules. It is the energy that holds these atoms together. When the bonds are broken, usually through chemical reactions, this stored energy can be released as other forms of energy such as light, heat, motion, electricity or sound.

diagram showing chemical energy stored in bonds

There are many examples of chemical energy in everyday life:

  • Food and food products like grains, fats, proteins and sugars contain chemical energy that is released when we digest them. The cells in our bodies break down molecules from the food to transfer the energy to be used by our bodies.
  • Batteries contain chemical energy stored in chemicals and metals inside them. This energy is released as electricity when the battery is connected in a circuit.
  • Fuels like coal, oil, gasoline and natural gas have chemical energy stored in their molecular bonds. This energy is released through combustion such as burning, which is a chemical reaction that breaks down the fuel molecules.

Chemical energy is an extremely useful form of energy storage as the energy can be released in a controlled manner under specific conditions. It powers many key processes and technologies in our modern world.

Electrical Energy

Electrical energy is the energy from electric charges or electric fields. There are several common examples of electrical energy:

  • Batteries – The chemical energy stored in batteries is converted into electrical energy that can power numerous devices.

  • Lightning – The massive electrostatic discharge between electrically charged regions in clouds or between a cloud and the Earth’s surface is a dramatic form of electrical energy in nature.

  • Static Electricity – The buildup of electric charge on surfaces through contact and separation, such as when you rub your feet on a carpet, is a form of static electrical energy.

Electrical energy is an extremely useful form of energy that powers many appliances, devices, and systems. By converting other forms of energy into electrical energy, batteries and generators provide electricity that makes modern life possible.

Radiant Energy

Radiant energy is the energy that travels in electromagnetic waves. It is converted to other forms of energy when absorbed. Examples of radiant energy include visible light, x-rays, gamma rays, and radio waves.

Visible light from the sun provides the energy that allows plants to grow. We see objects when visible light rays enter our eyes. Infrared radiation is felt as heat and is produced by objects at room temperature. Microwaves are used to heat food in microwave ovens. Radio waves are used to transmit radio and television signals.

All these forms of radiant energy differ only in wavelength. They all travel at the speed of light and do not require a medium to travel through. Radiant energy follows the electromagnetic spectrum from low frequency, low energy radio waves to high frequency, high energy gamma rays.

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is the energy released during nuclear reactions. There are a few ways that nuclear energy is commonly harnessed:

Nuclear fission – This process involves splitting the nuclei of atoms like uranium or plutonium, which releases a large amount of energy. Nuclear fission reactions are used in nuclear power plants to boil water and produce steam that spins turbines to generate electricity.

Nuclear fusion – Nuclear fusion occurs when the nuclei of light atoms like hydrogen fuse together. This releases an even larger amount of energy than fission. Nuclear fusion powers the sun and other stars.

Radioactive decay – Unstable radioactive isotopes like uranium and thorium naturally decay over time, emitting radiation. The heat generated from radioactive decay of elements in Earth’s core and mantle is thought to have played a role in powering geological activity like volcanoes and earthquakes.

Nuclear energy is an extremely dense source of power. The energy released from a single pound of uranium fuel is equal to about 3 million pounds of coal.

Thermal Energy

Thermal energy refers to the internal energy of an object or system due to the random motion of its atoms and molecules. Thermal energy is directly proportional to the temperature of matter. The higher the temperature, the greater the thermal energy since the atoms and molecules are vibrating more rapidly.

Heat is an example of thermal energy being transferred between objects due to a temperature difference. For instance, when you place your hand on top of a hot stove burner, thermal energy in the form of heat flows from the burner into your hand, increasing its internal energy and temperature. The friction between surfaces that rub against each other is another common example of thermal energy. The mechanical energy from friction gets converted into internal thermal energy in the objects, causing their temperature to rise.

Sound Energy

Sound energy is the energy carried by sound waves. Any time an object vibrates, it creates oscillations or waves in the air, also known as sound waves. These waves contain energy that is transmitted through the air until they reach our ears. The energy in sound waves is what enables us to hear various sounds all around us.

Some examples of sound energy in everyday life include:

  • Music from instruments, speakers or someone singing
  • People talking and having conversations
  • Noise from machinery and appliances
  • Thunder from lightning storms
  • Car horns, alarms and emergency sirens

The energy in sound waves causes molecules in the air to oscillate and collide with each other to propagate the waves. The greater the amplitude or loudness of the sound, the more energy it contains. When sound waves reach our ears, they cause vibrations of the eardrum and ossicles in the middle ear, which are then converted to nerve signals that travel to the brain. This allows us to interpret the sound energy as meaningful noises, speech, and music.


In this article, we explored several different forms that energy can take – kinetic, potential, chemical, electrical, radiant, nuclear, thermal, and sound. While energy can change from one form to another, the total amount of energy in a closed system always remains constant. This is known as the law of conservation of energy.

For example, when a ball falls off a table, its potential energy is converted to kinetic energy as it gains speed. When the ball hits the floor, some of that kinetic energy is converted to sound and heat energy. But if we accounted for all the different forms, the total amount of energy would stay the same.

Understanding how energy transforms between different states is key to harnessing it for human purposes, whether that’s generating electricity, powering vehicles, or cooking food. But no matter what we do with energy, we can’t create or destroy it – only convert it from one form to another.

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