Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

Energy stored in a capacitor

A pair of parallel metal plates, seen from the side in figures (a) and (b), can be used to store electrical energy by putting positive charge on one side and negative charge on the other. Such a device is called a capacitor. (We have encountered such an arrangement previously, but there its purpose was to deflect a beam of electrons, not to store energy.)

In the old method of describing potential energy, (a), we think in terms of the mechanical work that had to be done to separate the positive and negative charges onto the two plates, working against their electrical attraction. The new description, (b), attributes the storage of energy to the newly created electric field occupying the volume between the plates. Since this is a static case, both methods give the same, correct answer.

Last Update: 2009-06-21