What’s the Difference Between Energy and Power? Members of Congress Should Know.

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 24 2012 4:55 PM

What’s the Difference Between Energy and Power? Members of Congress Should Know.

74418352
Washington, UNITED STATES: US Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican from California, testifies on the business perspectives of comprehensive immigration reform during a hearing by the US House Judiciary committee's subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law.

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

In a hearing earlier today on Capitol Hill, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who sits on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, said, "I'm not educated enough to know the difference between the terms that we were talking about, energy and power."

This is a very basic distinction. Not understanding it is analogous to not comprehending the difference between where you are and how fast you are going. Just as velocity is the rate of change of position over time, power is the rate of change of energy over time. This matters because energy storage is one of the pressing technological challenges of our era. If you can store energy at a large scale, renewable energy—wind power in particular—becomes a far more attractive, and feasible, proposition. "Storing power," on the other hand, is, strictly speaking, an oxymoron. It is sometimes used as a colloquialism for very short-term energy storage (which can be used to smooth transient fluctuations in the electric grid).

Advertisement

It doesn't take a Ph.D. in physics or engineering to understand the difference between energy and power. It does not even require an associate’s degree. What it does take is five minutes.

There is nothing simple about solving the world's, or even America's, energy dilemmas. The trade-offs are vexing, and the technologies can be complicated. But for a member of Congress like Rohrabacher—a member of the committee charged with overseeing the government’s energy research, no less—not to understand the basic terms is deeply worrisome.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Konstantin Kakaes is a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of the e-book The Pioneer Detectives: Did a Distant Spacecraft Prove Einstein and Newton Wrong? Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.