Panels photovoltaic solar energy

Is solar energy kinetic or potential? Definitions and examples

Is solar energy kinetic or potential? Definitions and examples

Solar energy is an example of potential energy. According to the definition of potential energy - the capacity of an object to do work - we can say that solar energy can. For example, the wind is the motion of the air - since the air has mass -it implies work.

Why can solar energy not be kinetic energy?

On the one hand, kinetic energy depends on the speed and mass of the object. On the other hand, solar energy is photons traveling throw electromagnetic waves. However, photos have no mass; thus, they cannot be kinetic energy.

What is solar energy?

Solar energy is the energy that comes from the sun's rays, which provide light during the day. Each particle of sunlight that reaches the Earth's surface, known as a photon, contains energy that powers our planet.

It is the primary source of our weather systems and energy sources on Earth. An amount of solar radiation reaches the planet's surface every hour to cover our global energy needs for almost an entire year. One characteristic that defines solar energy is that it can be harnessed and converted for use through solar or photovoltaic collectors.

What is kinetic energy?

Kinetic energy is the energy of an object in motion. This energy of motion is equivalent to the work that needs to be done for the body to go from rest to the speed at which it is.

The kinetic energy is directly proportional to the mass and the square of the velocity.

In linear motion, the kinetic energy is determined by the formula

E c = (m·v 2 ) / 2


  • m is the mass (kg)

  • v is the speed with which the object is moving (m / s)

What is potential energy?

The potential energy can be defined as the ability of an object to perform work because of the state in which the thing is. This state can be the location in a force field or the internal configuration of the object.

Well-known examples of potential energy are:

  • An object in the Earth's gravitational field: At the Earth's surface, gravitational potential energy is determined by the formula E p = m · g · h. Where m is the mass (kg), g is the gravitational constant (9.8 m / s), and h is the height (m).

  • A charged particle in an electric field: in the reverse case, electric potential energy can be transformed into electric power.

  • The energy of a tensioned spring: a compressed spring has elastic potential energy. The force exerted by the spring can do work.

  • The nuclear bounds that atomic nuclei have. This energy is potent and is the energy source of nuclear power plants.

Difference between potential and kinetic energy

Kinetic energy is related to the speed of a body. In physics, it corresponds to the work that must be supplied for a stationary object to acquire the speed it is carrying.

On the other hand, potential energy is the energy associated with a position. It is the work that must be supplied to place an object in a specific position. For example, to raise an object to a certain height.

What is the relationship between kinetic and potential energy?

Kinetic and potential energy are two types of energy interrelated in objects. Mechanical energy is the sum of the two types of energy. The mechanical energy is constant if there is no energy exchange with the outside.

The unit of measurement for energy in the International System of Units is the Joule (J).

Kinetic and potential energies can be converted into many different types of energy. However, frequently both energies are combined, and it is fascinating the calculation the kinematics of an object.

Kinetic and potential energy examples

Here are some examples of these two forms of energy:

  1. The movement of a wagon on a roller coaster: When the wagon is at the highest point, the potential energy is maximum, and it has no kinetic energy (speed 0). When it starts to go down, it loses height and gains velocity, which means that the potential energy decreases, transforming itself into kinetic energy.

  2. The water in a river descends because the potential energy it has when it is at the top of the mountain is converted into kinetic energy. In this case, a large part of the energy is lost when rubbing against the stones of the river.

  3. The up and down movement of a ball thrown in the air entails an exchange between speed and position. The higher the ball is, the more potential energy has. At the same time, the slower it goes, the less kinetic energy.

  4. Electric current has kinetic energy and potential energy. An electric charge possesses kinetic energy because of the movement of the charge. In addition, it also has potential energy due to its electromagnetic forces.

  5. Atoms and molecules store energy in the form of potential energy. Chemical reactions change these structures by emitting or absorbing energy. This energy is called chemical potential energy.

Publication Date: May 8, 2019
Last Revision: December 17, 2021