The straight forward answer to ‘what is mechanical energy’ is that it is the sum of energy in a mechanical system. This energy includes both kinetic energy(energy of motion) and potential energy(stored energy).
Objects have mechanical energy if they are in motion and/or if they are at some position relative to a zero potential energy position. A few examples are: a moving car possesses mechanical energy due to its motion(kinetic energy) and a barbell lifted high above a weightlifter’s head possesses mechanical energy due to its vertical position above the ground(potential energy).
Kinetic energy is the energy of motion. An object that has motion, vertical or horizontal motion, has kinetic energy. There are many forms of kinetic energy: vibrational (the energy due to vibrational motion), rotational (the energy due to rotational motion), and translational (the energy due to motion from one location to another).
Potential energy is the energy stored in a body or in a system due to its position in a force field or its configuration. The standard unit of measure for energy and work is the joule. The term “potential energy” has been used since the 19th century.
Because of the different components of mechanical energy, it exists in every system in the universe. From a baseball being thrown to a brick falling off of a ledge, mechanical energy surrounds us.
Well, at the top of the hill, the car is pretty much stationary, so where has all its kinetic energy gone? The answer is that it has been converted to potential energy. As the car begins its descent on the other side of the hill, the potential energy begins to be converted back to kinetic energy, and the car gathers speed until it reaches the bottom of the hill. Back at the bottom, all the potential energy the car had at the top of the hill has been converted back into kinetic energy.
An object’s mechanical potential energy derives from work done by forces, and a label for a particular potential energy comes from the forces that are its source. For example, the roller coaster has potential energy because of the gravitational forces acting on it, so this is often called gravitational potential energy.