What is Elastic Potential Energy?

Dee S.
Dee S.

Elastic potential energy is the energy that is stored by the forces within a distorted elastic object. One of the easiest ways to understand the concept is to study to mechanics of an ordinary spring. It is also best to break down the various components in order to gain the most in depth knowledge.

When distorted, springs store elastic potential energy.
When distorted, springs store elastic potential energy.

Energy is the ability to do work, and it is most often transferred between two or more objects that are working. Energy can come in several forms, such as the kinetic energy that physically moves objects or the potential energy that is in the forces within or between the objects. Potential energy is not as easy to see as kinetic energy because nothing is visibly moving. Simply put, if the objects have the potential to do work, they contain potential energy.

There are several different types of potential energy: gravitational, elastic, electrostatic, chemical, and nuclear. As mentioned above, the best example of elastic potential energy is seen through an examination of a wound clock spring. In addition, potential energy can be measured in many different ways, such as in joules, calories, and kilowatt-hours.

When studying this type of energy, many people also consider the elastic limit of an object. For example, if someone pulls on a spring, it is possible to pull it too far and distort it, and as a result, it will exert less force. In most cases, once the spring or any other object has exceeded its elastic limit, it will become deformed — usually permanently so.

Distorting an object, such as a spring, takes work. It can be stretched by hand, simply by pulling the ends out. When the ends are pulled outward, energy from the person pulling is transferred to the spring and stored

The motion can also be done in reverse. If a spring is compressed, the energy is returned to the person’s hand. Only a small amount of that energy remains in the spring as thermal energy.

Another way of looking at elastic potential energy in an object, such as a spring, is to consider its equilibrium shape. For example, a spring that is distorted and no longer holding its equilibrium shape has this type of energy. Equilibrium is achieved when nothing is pushing, pulling, or twisting the spring.

Dee S.
Dee S.

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

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Discussion Comments


This helped a lot for my science project. Thanks.


How do you define elastic potential energy in a sentence?


@ Babalaas- I actually read something about the wind stalk when I was looking at the website for the Masdar Institute. I am a sustainability and engineering major, and the Masdar Institute would be my dream graduate school.

When I read about the project, I read that the designers were trying to adapt the technology so it could be used underwater. The idea is that they would use the power of the waves and currents to generate electricity across the ocean floor.

I think these stalks are such a great idea, but they are so new that the cost must be prohibitive. Hopefully, this turns into something that could become a viable solution to the problem of energy supply and demand.


I think this would qualify as elastic potential or kinetic energy, but I am not a hundred percent sure. A design firm has just created a wind turbine that is anything but conventional. The design is based on stalks of grass, or cattails swaying in the wind. The design also works best when grouped together tightly, and in turbulent and choppy wind. The system will likely be installed outside of Masdar City which will be one of the world’s first completely zero emission cities.

Anyway, the idea is called the wind stalk, and it looks like a field of hairs that stand up in the wind. The stalks are composed of 180-foot tall stacks of electrodes and ceramic discs encased in resin. The discs generate power when they are compressed, which happens when the stalks sway in the wind. Each stalk can generate the electricity of a traditional wind turbine yet they can be grouped much tighter together and there is no noise or danger to birds and bats. It’s a really great idea and if you are interested in new technology you should look it up.

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