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.
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.