An energy carrier is a substance (fuel) or sometimes a phenomenon (energy system) that contains energy that can be later converted to other forms such as mechanical work or heat or to operate chemical or physical processes.
Such carriers include springs, electrical batteries, capacitors, pressurized air, dammed water, hydrogen, petroleum, coal, wood, and natural gas. An energy carrier does not produce energy; it simply contains energy imbued by another system.
According to ISO 13600, an energy carrier is either a substance or a phenomenon that can be used to produce mechanical work or heat or to operate chemical or physical processes. It is any system or substance that contains energy for conversion as usable energy later or somewhere else. This could be converted for use in, for example, an appliance or vehicle. Such carriers include springs, electrical batteries, capacitors, pressurized air, dammed water, hydrogen, petroleum, coal, wood, and natural gas.
In the field of energetics, an energy carrier is produced by human technology from a primary energy source. Only the energy sector uses primary energy sources. Other sectors of society use an energy carrier to perform useful activities (end-uses). The distinction between "Energy Carriers" (EC) and "Primary Energy Sources" (PES) is extremely important. An energy carrier can be more valuable (have a higher quality) than a primary energy source. For example 1 megajoule (MJ) of electricity produced by a hydroelectric plant is equivalent to 3 MJ of oil. Sunlight is a main source of primary energy, which can be transformed into plants and then into coal, oil and gas. Solar power and wind power are other derivatives of sunlight. Note that although coal, oil and natural gas are derived from sunlight, they are considered primary energy sources which are extracted from the earth (fossil fuels). Natural uranium is also a primary energy source extracted from the earth but does not come from the decomposition of organisms (mineral fuel).