We take electricity for granted. We just have to flip a switch or push a button and the light goes on, the TV comes alive, and the smartphone screen asks you to sign in.
But what makes all of our electrical systems work—is it electric energy? Or electric power? Or do those two terms mean the same thing?
Electricity, energy, and power are often used synonymously, but they’re actually three very different things. Let’s dive into the differences below!
What is Electricity?
In simple terms, electricity is a form of energy that results from the movement of electrons. There are two types of electricity: static and current. Static electricity is produced by friction, which causes sparks or the attraction of dust or hair.
Current electricity, on the other hand, is the energy that is supplied through your home’s outlets and used to power your electronics. Because current electricity is easily converted, it can be used to power a wide variety of items—everything from lightbulbs to space heaters.
What is Energy?
Essentially, energy is the capacity to do work in any form. Even though we use energy for a wide variety of tasks, energy is typically used as a synonym for electricity, when in reality, electricity is a type of energy. To answer the question “Is electricity energy?”, the answer is yes. “Energy” can be used to describe the capacity for work by solar, mechanical, electrical methods.
Energy can be transferred from one object to another, or transformed into a different form, like light or heat. This is what allows us to use electricity to power light bulbs and space heaters; electrical energy can be converted to power pretty much anything.
To calculate the energy a task or item needs, you need to determine the strength or force necessary to move the object, and the distance the object needs to go. This calculation can be measured with a variety of units including joules, BTUs, calories, and watt-hour, with joules and watts being the units that relate to electricity.
What are Joules and Watts?
Joules and watts are the basic units of measure for power and energy. The measurement of electrical power is the watt; your electric company (sometimes called the power company) sells you electric energy by the “kilowatt-hour”. This stands for the amount of energy consumed if you were to use 1,000 watts at a steady rate for an hour. It has nothing to do with the amount of energy available to you. Are you with us so far?
Imagine you turn off every electricity-consuming-device in your home for one hour. And “off” means unplugged, switched off, not pulling current and not on stand-by. Since nothing is running in your home, you’re not consuming any wattage because your electrical devices are demanding no electric energy, and therefore aren’t using any electric power.
On the other hand, the measurement of electrical energy is joules, and watts are measured in joules per second. Because you weren’t using power or consuming watts of energy in this scenario, the electric company would not bill you for power consumption during that hour, although electrical energy (joules) was available for use.
What is Power?
Although power is related to energy, they’re two different things. Power measures how fast you can accomplish work, while energy measures the quantity of the work. Power is calculated by measuring the energy used per unit of time, no matter how the power is produced, whether it’s by mechanical, solar or electrical power. An item (like a car) has more power when it can accomplish the task more quickly. For example, a race car has a lot more power than a minivan.
Recap: The Differences Between Electricity vs. Energy vs. Power
To recap, the differences between electricity, energy, and power can be summed up into a few sentences. Essentially, electricity is a type of energy, and energy is the capacity to do work. Power and energy are both units of measure, with energy measuring the quantity of work needed to accomplish a task, while power measures the time the task takes to complete.
Now that you understand the differences between electricity, energy, and power, are you ready to take your knowledge to the next level? Learn more about how electricity is generated and how it’s harnessed to operate our daily lives with our Electrical Training Course! Not only is this course accepted by the state for renewing your electrical license, but it also meets state-specific continuing education requirements. Sign up for our Electrical Safety Training Course today!