difference in electric energy between an energized conductor. another energized conductor. the ground or other object. Measured in volts.

electric potential
Common symbols
V, φ
SI unitvolt
Other units
In SI base unitsV = kg m2 A−1 s−3
DimensionM L2T−3I−1

An electric potential (also called the electric field potential, potential drop or the electrostatic potential) is the amount of work needed to move a unit of charge from a reference point to a specific point inside the field without producing an acceleration. Typically, the reference point is the Earth or a point at infinity, although any point can be used.

In classical electrostatics, electric potential is a scalar quantity denoted by V or occasionally φ, equal to the electric potential energy of any charged particle at any location (measured in joules) divided by the charge of that particle (measured in coulombs). By dividing out the charge on the particle a quotient is obtained that is a property of the electric field itself.

This value can be calculated in either a static (time-invariant) or a dynamic (varying with time) electric field at a specific time in units of joules per coulomb (J C−1), or volts (V). The electric potential at infinity is assumed to be zero.

In electrodynamics, when time-varying fields are present, the electric field cannot be expressed only in terms of a scalar potential. Instead, the electric field can be expressed in terms of both the scalar electric potential and the magnetic vector potential. The electric potential and the magnetic vector potential together form a four vector, so that the two kinds of potential are mixed under Lorentz transformations.

« Back to Glossary Index