The 10 Types Of Energy And How They Power Our World

The 10 Types Of Energy And How They Power Our World

Energy powers everything we do, from the lights that come on when we flip a switch to the barbeque fire helping us cook a nice sizzling steak.

Energy is specifically defined as the ability to do work and can take on various forms such as heat that makes us sweat or electrical energy that powers our air conditioners at home.

The barrel of oil that is extracted from the ground brimming with chemical energy can be converted into electrical energy that is more useful for our modern needs such as powering up our computers.

From ancient civilizations to modern society today, energy has always been essential to how we have developed, and to further this growth, we are increasingly coming up with ways to harness the various types of energy to power our world!

While we are familiar with the common types of energy such as electrical and wind energy, there are a total of ten types that you should be aware of.

In this article, we will take a deep dive into the different types of energy and how they help power society, allowing us to live a comfortable and productive life.

10 Forms Of Energy & How They Are Powering Our World Today

Energy is never lost and can be converted from one form to another, some more directly useful than others.

From gravitational potential energy to kinetic and chemical energy, here’s what you need to know about these 10 energy types and how they are converted into power.

1. Kinetic Energy 

When an object is in motion, it possesses kinetic energy. However, it doesn’t have to be a solid object such as a moving car or a bicycle. The motion of waves, atoms, and molecules also translates into kinetic energy. 

One great example is the wind that constantly surrounds us when we are outdoors – the air molecules are moving and we feel its kinetic energy when the wind blows against us.

Kinetic energy is a powerful energy source, just think of natural phenomena such as a hurricane or typhoon. The winds there can easily exceed speeds of 120 km/h and start causing catastrophic damage and leave areas uninhabitable for weeks and even months!

The 2005 Hurricane Katrina that swept through the United States caused damages of over $160 billion dollars, highlighting the enormous power of the wind’s kinetic energy.

Today, to harness kinetic energy from the wind to generate electricity, countries have built wind turbines with huge rotating blades at a very high elevation.

The high-speed wind will turn and spin the propeller-like blades that will in turn help turn a shaft connected to a generator that will convert the kinetic energy into electricity.

The land requirements for these turbines are significant, restricting their use to countries with big landmasses.

However, despite its main drawback, it is a growing source of renewable energy and accounts for 8.4% of the USA’s total utility-scale electricity generation.

Kinetic-Energy

2. Gravitational Potential Energy

Imagine lifting a book a few meters above the ground. While the book is technically motionless, it does possess a form of energy called gravitational potential energy.

Due to the gravitational force exerted on objects from the Earth’s center, the further away an object is from the Earth’s core, the higher the build-up of gravitational potential energy of the object.

And when that object is released, the gravitational potential energy would immediately convert into kinetic energy as it is falling and dissipate into sound energy when it hits the floor.

Gravitational potential energy is a form of stored energy in nature that can be put into future use.

The higher the object as well as the greater its mass, the more stored gravitational potential energy it has. This scientific principle is what motivates the construction of hydroelectric dams.

Hydroelectric dams harness the potential energy of huge bodies of water stored at a high elevation. For example, the Hoover Dam in the USA can hold over 28.9 million acre-feet of water at a height of over 200 meters.

Because water normally flows through a specific path, by building a dam, the kinetic energy is halted and converted into gravitational potential energy waiting to be utilized.

Once the water has reached a certain height, the dam will release water from the reservoir that will flow through a turbine, spinning it, that will then activate a generator that produces electricity.

Hydroelectric power is widely utilised across the world, especially in countries like China and Canada that possess large bodies of water, to generate electricity to power their cities.

Gravitational-Potential-Energy

3. Mechanical Energy

Mechanical energy is energy that results from the movement or change of position by an object. And is the sum of kinetic energy and potential energy.

For example, a satellite in space orbiting earth possesses mechanical energy as it has both kinetic energy from its motion and potential energy due to the gravitational pull from Earth.

Generators across power plants, wind turbines, and hydroelectric dams all convert mechanical energy into electricity.

In a turbine generator, a moving fluid such as water (from a dam’s reservoir) or steam (from the burning of fossil fuels), or air (from wind energy) will rotate the rotor shaft of a generator, doing work.

This work will then cause relative movement between the generator’s magnetic and electric fields to produce electricity.

Mechanical-Energy

4. Thermal Energy

Scientifically, thermal energy refers to the kinetic energy of atomic motion where the average thermal energy of a group of molecules is known as temperature.

When the temperature of a substance increases, the molecules, and atoms vibrate faster due to their rise in thermal energy. This can be something as simple as baking food in the oven and boiling a kettle of water, the increase in temperature imbues the food & water with greater thermal energy.

While most of the time, we use electricity or other forms of energy to increase an object’s thermal energy, there are some instances where thermal energy is naturally existent in abundance and can be harnessed to produce electricity.

This is called hydrothermal energy and such hydrothermal resources are commonly known as geothermal energy.

Geothermal energy is thermal energy generated from the continual heat loss from the Earth’s crust and the vapor (that can go up to 300 degrees Celsius) is then harnessed through flash technology to generate steam that drives a turbine generating electricity in the process.

Any leftover water and condensed steam are then injected back into the geothermal reservoir, essentially making it a renewable resource.

Iceland is one country that has the luxury of access to natural geothermal energy and utilises it to generate electricity, contributing to 25% of the country’s power production!

Thermal-Energy

5. Electromagnetic Energy

Electromagnetic or radiant energy takes the form of visible waves that we call light or invisible waves that include radio waves and x-rays.

Because radiant energy can travel through space, we are able to feel the effects of the energy from the sun – both heat and light as well as other lesser desirable electromagnetic energy such as UV light.

The sunshine from the sun is considered radiant energy that goes beyond just brightening up our days and illuminating the earth.

Plants rely on sunlight together with water and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis that generates oxygen as a by-product, helping the earth reduce greenhouse gases.

As an energy source, electromagnetic energy is one of the most reliable and renewable sources of power. Also known as solar energy, the power is captured and harnessed through solar photovoltaics (PVs).

PVs create electricity by absorbing energy from the sunlight, allowing the photons from the sunlight to excite electrons in the silicon cells, creating electricity in the process.

Unlike many other renewable energy sources, solar power can be utilised by countries that are land-scarce and devoid of natural energy sources such as large bodies of water or located new geothermal opportunities.

Together with the advancement of solar technology and the rise of solar battery storage capabilities, solar energy is fast becoming the renewable energy of choice for developing nations.

One such example is India that plans to produce 100 GW of electricity from solar by 2022, of which around 40 GW will be from decentralized rooftop projects on rural homes to help families and communities gain better access to a higher standard of living.

In Singapore, solar energy is a key pillar of our renewable energy plan, with a plan to move towards a 2-gigawatt-peak solar capacity target by 2030.

Electromagnetic-Energy

6. Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy comes from the energy stored in the nucleus of atoms. In order to harness this energy, either nuclear fusion or nuclear fission will have to be done.

Nuclear fusion occurs when nuclei of atoms are combined to form heavier nuclei, releasing huge amounts of energy in the process. This is the exact process of the reactions happening in the Sun that produces energy

Nuclear fission on the other hand is how nuclear power plants generate electricity from nuclear energy.

In this process, the nucleus is hit with an extra neutron which it absorbs, causing the nucleus to become violently unstable which then splits into smaller nuclei, releasing large amounts of energy in the process.

However, besides kinetic energy, nuclear fission produces radioactive nuclear waste that will typically last for 1,000 years or longer.

Unlike other renewable energy sources, nuclear power has the potential to be the most devastating to both humankind and the environment when accidents do occur. 

One such example was the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 which saw the Fukushima nuclear power plant enter a state of nuclear meltdown after a tsunami hit the coast of Fukushima after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

This incident forced more than 150,000 people to evacuate from the area and for the next 40 years, tens of thousands of workers will be needed to safely remove the nuclear waste with many former residents no longer desiring to return there.

However, nuclear energy still is a major source of energy in many developed nations such as the United States where it contributes a whopping 19.5% of total annual electricity generation across 96 operating nuclear reactors.

China is also a big proponent of nuclear reactors with 49 in operation with a capacity of 47.5 GW and while it only provides around 2% of China’s electricity needs, the country plans to let nuclear power take front-stage as the main power source going forward.

Nuclear-Energy

7. Chemical Energy

Chemical energy is energy that is stored within chemical compounds such as oil and gas, which can then be effectively harnessed when they are burned.

Chemical energy can also come in other forms such as the sugar and glucose that we consume in our food. The sugar’s chemical energy is released into our bloodstream when it is digested, filling us up with energy that is necessary for human life.

During this harnessing of chemical energy through a chemical reaction, the stored energy is released causing the original substance to change into a different substance.

One example is the burning of ethane gas, which releases heat and light and leads to the formation of water and carbon dioxide.

Fossil fuels are a great example of stores of chemical energy that are used to power the majority of modern society today – from our vehicles and shipping industry to generating power for our homes.

In Singapore alone, natural gas accounted for 95.6% of the fuel mix for electricity generation. Globally, fossil fuels supply around 84% of the world’s energy, underscoring the continued importance of this chemical energy source.

While we are moving more towards renewable energy sources, fossil fuels will still be a critical pillar of our energy generation as well as for most countries in the world.

Chemical-Energy

8. Sound Energy

Did you know that sound is actually a form of energy too? Sound energy is essentially the movement of energy through what is known as sound waves and because it needs a medium, such as the molecules in the air, it cannot travel in a vacuum.

Whether you are talking, singing, playing a drum set, or just clapping your hands, you are converting various forms of energy (such as kinetic energy) into sound energy.

While there is no known large-scale method to harness sound energy into electricity, scientists are experimenting with piezoelectric transducers to harvest sound wave energy in a bid to convert it into usable electrical energy.

During the research, it is found that sound energy can be successfully harvested but the energy output is still too low to meaningfully power up devices.

Sound-Energy

9. Elastic Energy

One of the lesser-known forms of energy, elastic energy is a form of potential energy that is stored within an object when there is a strain on it.

For example, if you draw back a bowstring, there exists elastic potential energy which will transfer to the arrow you are about to fire into kinetic and sound energy.

Here’s a simpler example, by simply pulling the ends of a rubber band, you are imbuing it with elastic energy and when you let go, the band snaps back into its original shape, releasing kinetic energy.

The more strain that is placed on an object, the higher the elastic potential energy it will have.

Scientists have developed a stretchy yarn made of carbon nanotubes that generate electricity when stretched. While it is still being researched, it has the ability to operate in the ocean and could prove to be a significant renewable energy source in the future.

Elastic-Energy

10. Electrical Energy

Last but not least, we have electrical energy which is perhaps the most important form of energy that we depend on to power our modern lifestyles.

Electrical energy comes from the movement of electric charges (or electrons). The faster the movement of the electric charges, the more electricity that can be produced.

From home solar panels to buying electricity from energy retailers, electrical energy places a critical role in society by powering our lives and commercial industries.

In nature, certain phenomena such as a thunderstorm can produce electrical energy. This is caused by the rubbing of droplets and crystals that make electrical charges that ultimately discharge as lightning or electrical energy.

Electric eels can generate electrical energy and they do it by means of a highly unique and specialised nervous system composed of electricity-producing cells. These electrolyte cells line up in the thousands to direct the movement of charged particles to generate electricity.

However, because electricity is in such high demand, converting other forms of energy is the preferred means of generating electricity reliably and continuously to help power up the appliances in our homes and industries – from our 24/7 refrigerators to modern electric cars.

From home solar panels to buying electricity from energy retailers, electrical energy places a critical role in society by powering our lives and commercial industries.

Electrical-Energy
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