Back to GCSE Physics Revision Home

Conservation of Energy

GCSEAQACombined Science FoundationCombined Science HigherPhysics FoundationPhysics Higher

Conservation of Energy Revision

Conservation of Energy

Energy can be transferred, stored or dissipated (wasted).

But energy cannot be created or destroyed.

This means that in a closed system (where energy cannot leave or enter the system) the net change in energy will always be zero. 

Useful and Wasted Energy

When transferring energy between stores, not all of the energy will be transferred to the desired energy store. The energy that transfers to the intended store is considered the useful energy. The energy transferred to other stores is the wasted energy. We say that the wasted energy has been dissipated

For example, a light bulb produces both heat and light. The amount of energy that is used to produce the light is the useful energy. The energy that transfers to the heat energy store is wasted, because we did not want the lightbulb to get hot. 

The useful and wasted energy always add up to the energy input because energy cannot be created or destroyed

GCSECombined Science FoundationCombined Science HigherPhysics FoundationPhysics HigherAQA

Reducing Wasted Energy

There are a number of ways that unwanted transfers of energy can be reduced. Thermal insulation and lubrication are two important methods for reducing wasted energy.

Thermal Insulation:  

Energy is often lost from a system via heat energy transferring to the surroundings. By covering an object in a layer or multiple layers of a material, you can reduce the rate of heat transfer out of the object. This is called insulation. For example, when you get cold, you might put on a coat. The coat stops the heat energy that your body is produced from transferring to the air around you, and so you don’t get cold as fast. 

Lubrication:

Energy can also be lost when friction acts between objects that are rubbing together. The amount of energy lost to friction can be reduced by making the surfaces smoother. This is called lubrication. For example, roads are much more slippery when it is icy, this is because ice is smoother than tarmac and so there is less friction between car tyres and the road. 

GCSECombined Science FoundationCombined Science HigherPhysics FoundationPhysics HigherAQA

Thermal Conductivity 

Some materials make better thermal insulators than others. This is because of a property called thermal conductivity.  Thermal conductivity tells you how well a material transfers heat energy through it. 

Materials with a low thermal conductivity transfer less heat energy and therefore make good thermal insulators

Materials with a high thermal conductivity transfer more heat energy and therefore make poor thermal insulators

For example, if you heat one end of a metal rod, the other end will also get hot. This is because metal has a high thermal conductivity and so the heat is transferred quickly the metal. However, if you heat one end of a plastic rod, the other end will stay cool because plastic has low thermal conductivity. 

Buildings are constructed with materials with a low thermal conductivity in order to insulate the rooms inside. This allows the building to stay warm in cold weather but cool in the summer. 

GCSECombined Science FoundationCombined Science HigherPhysics FoundationPhysics HigherAQA
MME Logo
TikTok

Your 2024 Revision Partner

@mmerevise

Open TikTok

Required Practical

Investigating the Thermal Conductivity of Different Materials

You can test to see how effective materials are as thermal insulators by performing the following experiment.

Doing the experiment

  1. Boil some water and pour into a room temperature beaker. Place a lid on the beaker.
  2. Start a stopwatch at the same time as measuring the temperature of the water using a thermometer.
  3. After 5 \text{ minutes}, measure the temperature of the water again. 
  4. Calculate the decrease in temperature
  5. Pour away the water and leave the beaker to cool to room temperature. 
  6. Repeat the experiment, but this time wrap an insulating material, such as bubble wrap, around the beaker. 
  7. Repeat with a range of different materials and different thickness of materials. 

The smaller the decrease in temperature, the better the thermal insulator. The bigger the decrease in temperature, the worse the thermal conductor. 

GCSEPhysics FoundationPhysics HigherAQA

Conservation of Energy Example Questions

Any one from:

  • Loft insulation
  • Double-glazed windows
  • Wall insulation
  • Thicker walls
  • Use of draught excluders
MME Premium Laptop

Save your answers with

MME Premium

Gold Standard Education

The oil reduces friction between the chain and the cog. Friction produces heat and so less heat is produced. This is called lubrication.

MME Premium Laptop

Save your answers with

MME Premium

Gold Standard Education

Metal has a higher thermal conductivity than plastic so heat energy is transferred faster through the metal than plastic. 

MME Premium Laptop

Save your answers with

MME Premium

Gold Standard Education

MME Premium
Product

MME Premium Membership

£19.99

/month

Learn an entire GCSE course for maths, English and science on the most comprehensive online learning platform. With revision explainer videos & notes, practice questions, topic tests and full mock exams for each topic on every course, it’s easy to Learn and Revise with the MME Learning Portal.

Sign Up Now