In physics, the zero-point energy is the lowest possible energy that a quantum mechanical physical system may have and is the energy of the ground state. The quantum mechanical system that encapsulates this energy is the zero-point field. The concept was first proposed by Albert Einstein and Otto Stern in 1913. The term "zero-point energy" is a calque of the German Nullpunktenergie. All quantum mechanical systems have a zero-point energy. The term arises commonly in reference to the ground state of the quantum harmonic oscillator and its null oscillations.
Proposed Free Energy Devices Edit
As a scientific concept, the existence of zero point energy is not controversial although it may be debated. However, perpetual motion machines and other power generating devices supposedly based on zero point energy are highly controversial. No device claimed to operate using zero point energy has been demonstrated to operate as claimed. No plausible description of a device drawing useful power from a source of zero point energy has been given. Thus, current claims to zero point energy-based power generation systems currently have the status of pseudoscience or constitute outright fraud.
The discovery of zero point energy did not alter the implausibility of perpetual motion machines. Much attention has been given to reputable science suggesting that zero point energy is infinite, but zero point energy is a minimum energy below which a thermodynamic system can never go, thus none of this energy can be withdrawn without altering the system to a different form in which the system has a lower zero point energy. The calculation that underlies the Casimir experiment, a calculation based on the formula predicting infinite vacuum energy, shows the zero point energy of a system consisting of a vacuum between two plates will decrease at a finite rate as the two plates are drawn together. The vacuum energies are predicted to be infinite, but the changes are predicted to be finite. Casimir combined the projected rate of change in zero point energy with the principle of conservation of energy to predict a force on the plates. The predicted force, which is very small and was experimentally measured to be within 5% of its predicted value, is finite. Even though the zero point energy might be infinite, there is no theoretical basis or practical evidence to suggest that infinite amounts of zero point energy are available for use, that zero point energy can be withdrawn for free, or that zero point energy can be used in violation of conservation of energy.
The existence of zero point energy sources in fiction can be consider as "Clarke's Law" devices. A sufficiently advanced technology that you are never going to see in your own hands.