The terminal voltage difference of a battery means the difference of voltage between the two termials of a battery. Now, a battery has a voltage at the positive terminal and a voltage at the negative terminal. Voltage means the work needed to be done to bring a poistive one coulomb charge from infinity to that terminal. Now, how does the value of this work change when current flows? (The value of this work must change for both of the terminals for the terminal voltage difference to be changed, isn't it?) I want an intuitive explanation.

  • $\begingroup$ A real battery is not an ideal source of energy, sustaining constant voltage no matter how much current flows. A real battery, for a first approximation, can be modeled as an ideal battery with a resistor. Real life, as always, is far more complicated. $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2017 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ Model the battery as a voltage source in series with a small resistor and it will all make sense. $\endgroup$
    – DanielSank
    Jul 28, 2017 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ RE: " Voltage means the work needed to be done to bring a poistive one coulomb charge from infinity to that terminal."---never mind this. Think more about the potential difference between one terminal and the other. That tells you how much work the chemical reaction in the battery is doing to move charge from one terminal to the other. $\endgroup$
    – The Photon
    Jul 28, 2017 at 18:07

1 Answer 1


Some reasons the voltage of a battery goes down under load:

  1. Internal resistance. A simplistic first-order model of a battery is a voltage source in series with a resistance. As you draw current, the current causes a voltage across the resistance. That voltage subtracts from the internal voltage source to give you what you get on the terminals.

  2. Chemical depletion. Starting with the simple model above, add the fact that the actual internal voltage source doesn't put out a constant voltage either. As a battery is used, its chemical energy is used up. This changes the chemistry so that the open-circuit voltage goes down.

  3. Ion migration bottleneck. At high currents, there is also the effect that the ions can't migrate fast enough to the other electrode. This sortof clogs up the works, also decreasing open-circuit voltage. This is why you can see batteries sometimes have a low open-circuit voltage immediately after sourcing a lot of current, but have that voltage recover at least somewhat over time.


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