# What is an explanation of potential energy?

I really don't understnd potential energy and potential difference at all. I think that to understand potential difference I first need to understand potential energy, but I could be wrong... Could someone please give me a thorough and relatively straight-forward explanation of potential energy and potential difference? I would really, really appreciate any and all help.

Thanks so much :)

### 4 Answers

- gintableLv 78 years agoFavorite Answer
Potential energy, in the general sense of the term, means energy due to POSITION/CONFIGURATION.

This means, simply due to the location of an object, an object possesses energy. Or, due to the configuration of an object. Just by looking at one "snapshot" in time, and knowing what the object is, you can assess its potential energy.

The two most common examples of potential energy, are gravitational potential energy (GPE) and electric potential energy (EPE). Another common example is strain potential energy (SPE), like that in a stretched or compressed spring.

Consider GPE for example. In order to know an object's GPE, in the local sense of the term, you need to know its mass, and its elevation, along with the fact that it is on Earth, and Earth's corresponding gravitational field. There is a universal method of determining GPE as well, which is much more interesting (but that is a topic for another day). The point is, that just the answer of where the object is, and what the object is, is the information that sets its potential energy.

When an object's GPE is released, this means that it will experience gravitational forces that increase its speed, doing work on the object. When an object moves opposite, GPE is being stored.

Now consider EPE instead. Instead of it being a configuration of masses that sets the potential energy, it is a configuration of electrical charges. Or it is the position of an individual charge, among an arrangement of several other charges. An individual charge has a certain potential energy, at any given point in space, due to the interaction it "could have" with the arrangement of other charges.

The idea of "potential", in contrast with potential energy, is that it NORMALIZES the potential energy function of space. It does it on a basis of PER UNIT PROPERTY OF MATTER.

Gravitational potential, would be the gravitational potential energy of an object at a given position, per unit mass of the object.

Electric potential, is the EPE of an object at a given position, expressed on a per unit charge basis of the object. Another name for electric potential, is voltage. Hence why we use the symbol V for it.

Keep in mind that electrons are negative when interchanging between electric potential and EPE. Where electric potential is high, the EPE of an electron is low. Where electric potential is low, the EPE of an electron is high. The same is true for any negative charge.

With positive charges, it is of course more intuitive. High electric potential = high EPE.

- TechnobuffLv 78 years ago
Say you had a stationary mass of 2kg. on a shelf 3 metres off the ground.

It has a POTENTIAL to fall. Its potential energy is (mgh) = 2 x 9.8 x 3m., = 588.8 Joules.

The potential DIFFERENCE between it and the floor is 588.8 Joules.

So, you push it off the shelf. As it accelerates down due to gravity (9.8m/sec^2), the POTENTIAL energy reduces as height reduces. The amount by which it reduces is the KINETIC energy, and just as it arrives at the floor, all the POTENTIAL energy has become 0, while its KINETIC energy is 588.8 Joules. There is now no potential energy, and no potential difference.

- Anonymous4 years ago
Conservation of potential. all of us comprehend that it takes a undeniable volume of potential to stretch a spring; the gravitational skill potential of the mass would be transferred to the spring and saved as spring potential. The spring would be stretching precisely as a procedures through fact the mass will drop. assume which you initiate at a top of 0: m*g*h + .5*ok*x^2 = m*g*H + .5*ok*H^2. We already comprehend that h=0 (through fact we are beginning from a top of 0), ok=30, m = a million, and g = -9.80 one and x=0 (through fact it starts out unstretched). then you definately've have been given 0 = a million*-9.80 one*H + .5*30*H^2. H is solved to be -.654 meters (it has dropped .654 meters downward). yet, we at the instant are not performed. the certainly question replaced into the replace in GPE. So, if it began at a top of 0 (hence had 0 GPE), and altered with the help of a top of -.654, the recent GPE=m*g*(h-H)= a million*-9.80 one*(.654)=-6.42J examine: the replace in spring PE might desire to be a similar, however the choice sign (so as that including them sums to 0, the quantity we began with): .5*ok*H^2 = .5*30*.654*.654 = 6.42J. hence, the respond is -6.42J, not -3.21J. EDIT: the only thank you to get -3.21 is that in case you employ Hooke's regulation (F=ok*x) particularly of spring PE. it somewhat is incorrect through fact Hooke's regulation provides rigidity, particularly than potential. EDIT quantity 2: the respond given with the help of Steve4Physics is authentic. In my protection, i replaced into hammered when I replied.