With Great Power...

Why do we care about power? Power is the measurement of energy transfer over time, and energy costs money. Batteries aren’t free, and neither is that stuff coming out of your electrical outlet. So, power measures how fast the pennies are draining out of your wallet!

Also, energy is…energy. It comes in many, potentially harmful, forms – heat, radiation, sound, nuclear, etc. – ,and more power means more energy. So, it’s important to have an idea of what kind of power you’re working with when playing with electronics.

In general physics terms, power is defined as the rate at which energy is transferred (or transformed).

So, first, what is energy and how is it transferred? It’s hard to state simply, but energy is basically the ability of something to move something else. There are many forms of energy: mechanical, electrical, chemical, electromagnetic, thermal, and many others.

Energy can never be created or destroyed, only transferred to another form. A lot of what we’re doing in electronics is converting different forms of energy to and from electric energy. Lighting LEDs turns electric energy into electromagnetic energy. Spinning motors turns electric energy into mechanical energy. Buzzing buzzers makes sound energy. Powering a circuit off a 9V alkaline battery turn chemical energy into electrical energy. All of these are forms of energy transfers.

Electric energy in particular, begins as electric potential energy – what we lovingly refer to as voltage. When electrons flow through that potential energy, it turns into electric energy. In most useful circuits, that electric energy transforms into some other form of energy. Electric power is measured by combining both how much electric energy is transferred, and how fast that transfer happens.

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