In physics, energy is a quantity that is often understood as the ability to perform work. This quantity can be assigned to any particle, object, or system of objects as a consequence of its physical state.
Different forms of energy include kinetic, potential, thermal, gravitational, sound, elastic and electromagnetic energy. The forms of energy are often named after a related force. German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz established that all forms of energy are equivalent — energy in one form can disappear but the same amount of energy will appear in another form. A restatement of this idea is that energy is subject to a over time.
Any form of energy can be transformed into another form. When energy is in a form other than thermal energy, it may be transformed with good or even perfect efficiency, to any other type of energy. With thermal energy, however, there are often limits to the efficiency of the conversion to other forms of energy, due to the second law of thermodynamics. As an example, when oil reacts with oxygen, potential energy is released, since new chemical bonds are formed in the products which are more stable than those in the oil and oxygen. The released energy resulting from this process may be converted directly to electricity (as in a fuel cell) with good efficiency. Alternately it may be converted into thermal energy if the oil is simply burned. In the latter case, however, some of the thermal energy can no longer be used to perform work at that temperature, and is said to be "degraded." As such, it exists in a form unavailable for further transformation. The remainder of the thermal energy may be used to produce any other type of energy, such as electricity.
In all such energy transformation processes, the total energy remains the same. Energy may not be created nor destroyed. This principle, the conservation of energy, was first postulated in the early 19th century, and applies to any isolated system. According to Noether's theorem, the conservation of energy is a consequence of the fact that the laws of physics do not change over time.
Although the total energy of a system does not change with time, its value may depend on the frame of reference. For example, a seated passenger in a moving airplane has zero kinetic energy relative to the airplane, but non-zero kinetic energy (and higher total energy) relative to the Earth.
Energy is a scalar physical quantity. In the International System of Units (SI), energy is measured in joules, but in some fields other units such as kilowatt-hours and kilocalories are also used.