We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Potential Energy?

Daniel Liden
By Daniel Liden
Updated Jan 21, 2024
Our promise to you
AllTheScience is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At AllTheScience, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Potential energy is the stored energy of position. It can be thought of as energy that is “stored” by any physical system. It is called potential because, in its current form, it is not doing any work or causing any change in its surroundings. It does, however, have the potential to be converted to different forms of energy, such as kinetic energy. The standard unit for measuring such energy is the joule.

When an object is displaced from its original position and there is energy pulling it back to that position, potential energy tends to exist. A ball at the end of a spring, for example, has energy that will be converted to kinetic energy when allowed to return to its original position. A weight held above the ground will, when released, have potential energy as gravity pulls it back to its original position.

One of the major principles of this type of energy is the law of conservation of energy, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. The energy expended to lift an object or compress a spring does not simply disappear, it is “stored” as potential energy. It is then released as kinetic energy by a restoring force. The energy input equals the energy output; there is no gain or loss in overall energy.

There are many different types of potential energy. Potential elastic energy exists when an elastic object, such as a bow or rubber band, is stretched or otherwise deformed under stress. Potential chemical energy is related to the chemical bonds in a molecule. In chemical reactions, chemical potential energy is transformed to other forms of energy as the bonds are broken and reformed. Potential electrical energy takes three primary forms: electrostatic, electrodynamic, and nuclear.

Potential electrostatic energy exists when a charged particle is at rest. It has potential energy because of its position in relation to other charged particles. Potential electrodynamic energy exists because of moving charged particles. These particles can form an electromagnetic field that has the potential to move other objects. Potential nuclear energy exists because of the relationships between subatomic particles, such as protons, electrons, and neutrons, in the nucleus of atoms.

AllTheScience is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon282596 — On Jul 30, 2012

What I think is that when the body is at a certain height from the ground, then it has a potential energy, as the formula for it says p.e = mgh. Since at the ground the height of the object such as rock is 0 therefore the potential energy is 0, so as mentioned above, when you lift the rock, h has a value greater than 0, so potential energy exists.

By anon281556 — On Jul 24, 2012

What is potential energy? It does not state information on here that kids will understand!

By jamestaylor2 — On Oct 22, 2011

It's a great article, but I'm still confused. Does an object which is at rest on the ground--such as a rock--have potential energy? If it does not, why would a book on a shelf (at rest) have potential energy? Would it be because for whatever reason it could still fall?

By anon85985 — On May 23, 2010

potential energy is very confusing, because when you're having a test on science (e.g., potential energy, kinetic energy, force, speed) and all of these questions can come from making mouse traps expertly when you're in year 10 in high school, there's a lot of studying.

By liden — On Feb 01, 2010

Potential energy can be very confusing. Potential energy exists in essentially everything, though. For example, two subatomic particles experience potential energy just because of their relationships to each other.

If you pick up a rock and throw it, there are several different sources of energy exerted on it. You give it energy by throwing it -- your body converts chemical energy into mechanical energy to allow you to throw it. The rock has potential energy because it is above the ground. The potential energy is equal to its mass times the height above the ground times the acceleration due to gravity.

When it is actually thrown, the chemical/mechanical energy from you and the potential energy that exists because of gravity are converted to kinetic energy, the energy of motion.

A blade of grass is a more complex case. While potential energy is at work, the wind's energy is much more important; the effects of potential energy are essentially negligible.

By breakofday — On Jan 31, 2010

Man this is confusing. So basically, does EVERYTHING store potential energy?

A rock on the ground has potential energy IF I pick it up and throw it, which is then converted to Kinetic energy. But wouldn't that my MY potential energy that is being expended and converted to Kinetic energy and not the rocks?

Or how about a blade of grass on the wind, does the GRASS have the potential energy or is it the wind blowing thereby using its' Kinetic energy to move the grass?

AllTheScience, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

AllTheScience, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.