Can Flywheels Help Balance Electricity Supply and Demand?

Beacon Power hopes to demonstrate the feasibility of the old technology to help balance fluctuating inputs from renewables


Beacon Power Corp. broke ground today on a 20-megawatt, energy-storage facility in southeastern New York.

The Rensselaer County project, slated for completion in 2011, would be the first in the nation to use a "flywheel" frequency regulation system to balance electricity supply and demand, according to the Tyngsboro, Mass.-based company. The $69 million facility would store electricity as kinetic energy in a matrix of massive discs when grid supply outstrips demand.

The ability to move power in and out of the system and maintain proper electricity frequency -- about 60 cycles per second -- will make the nation's electricity grid "smarter," Beacon President and CEO Bill Capp contended in a written statement.

"Our flywheel systems provide an essential grid-stabilizing service, and they do it faster and much more efficiently than today's conventional methods, most of which consume fossil fuel and produce harmful [carbon dioxide] greenhouse gas emissions," he added.

In July, the Department of Energy conditionally approved a $43 million federal loan for Beacon's project. DOE has not issued final approval of the loan guarantee but aims to do soon, a department spokeswoman said today.

In August, Beacon applied for two grants, totaling up to $46.7 million, under DOE's Smart Grid Demonstration program. If approved, each grant would fund up to 50 percent of the cost of Beacon's second and third 20-megawatt plants, the company noted in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Company officials did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment for this article.

A recent report by GTM Research projects that "power oriented" energy storage -- used mainly to regulate short-term changes to grid frequency -- will grow quickly in the near term but will be constrained in the long term by a limited market. Conversely, "energy oriented" storage -- in which energy use is shifted to other times of the day -- has a massive total market size and is only beginning to emerge.

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500

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