CIE A Level Physics (9702) 2019-2021

Revision Notes

6.1.1 Energy Conservation

The Principle of Conservation of Energy

  • The Principle of Conservation of Energy states that:
    • Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change from one form to another
  • This means the total amount of energy in a closed system remains constant, although how much of each form there is may change
  • Common examples of energy transfers are:
    • A falling object (in a vacuum): gravitational potential energy ➝ kinetic energy
    • A battery: chemical energy ➝ electrical energy ➝ light energy (if connected to a bulb)
    • Horizontal mass on a spring: elastic potential energy ➝ kinetic energy


Types of energy

Energy types table, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

Transfers and stores of energy, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

Diagram showing the forms of energy transfers and stores


Energy dissipation

  • When energy is transferred from one form to another, not all the energy will end up in the desired form (or place)
  • Dissipation is used to describe ways in which energy is wasted
  • Any energy not transferred to useful energy stores is wasted because it is lost to the surroundings
  • These are commonly in the form of thermal (heat), light or sound energy
  • What counts as wasted energy depends on the system
  • For example, in a television:

electrical energy ➝ light energy + sound energy + thermal energy

    • Light and sound energy are useful energy transfers whereas thermal energy (from the heating up of wires) is wasted
  • Another example, in a heater:

electrical energy ➝ thermal energy + sound energy

    • The thermal energy is useful, whereas sound is not


Worked Example

The diagram shows a rollercoaster going down a track.
The rollercoaster takes the path A → B → C → D.

WE - Energy transfers question image, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

Which statement is true about the energy changes that occur for the rollercoaster down this track?

A.     KE – GPE – GPE – KE

B.     KE – GPE – KE – GPE

C.     GPE – KE – KE – GPE

D.     GPE – KE – GPE – KE


    • At point A:
      • The rollercoaster is raised above the ground, therefore it has GPE
      • As it travels down the track, GPE is converted to KE and the roller coaster speeds up
    • At point B:
      • KE is converted to GPE as the rollercoaster rises up the loop
    • At point C:
      • This GPE is converted back into KE as the rollercoaster travels back down the loop
    • At point D:
      • The flat terrain means the rollercoaster only has KE

Exam Tip

You may not always be given the energy transfers happening in the system in exam questions.

By familiarising yourself with the transfers and stores of energy, you will be expected to relate these to the situation in question. For example, a ball rolling down a hill is transferring gravitational potential energy to kinetic energy whilst a spring converts elastic potential energy into kinetic energy.

Author: Ashika

Ashika graduated with a first-class Physics degree from Manchester University and, having worked as a software engineer, focused on Physics education, creating engaging content to help students across all levels. Now an experienced GCSE and A Level Physics and Maths tutor, Ashika helps to grow and improve our Physics resources.

Join Save My Exams

Download all our Revision Notes as PDFs

Try a Free Sample of our revision notes as a printable PDF.

Join Now
Already a member?
Go to Top