Flywheel energy storage makes 100% wind and solar possible

We can meet all of our electricity needs with wind and solar. But what about when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining? Coal, nuclear and natural gas make up 88% of the U.S. electricity mix. There are several answers to the myth that intermittent energy sources like wind and solar can't replace these dirty energy sources. One of the most exciting is flywheel energy storage, now being pioneered on a commercial scale in New York and soon Pennsylvania. Check it out...

Frictionless future for energy

By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Monday July 11, 2011

STEPHENTOWN, N.Y. -- The technology contained in a new, first-of-its-kind 20-megawatt flywheel energy storage facility has the potential to make renewable sources of power such as wind and solar even more viable in the coming decades.

Located on seven acres within a couple of miles of the Massachusetts state line, the 3.5 acre storage facility consumes no fuel and creates no emissions by using flywheels housed in nearly frictionless containers. Using kinetic energy, the flywheels absorb or inject electricity to relieve the grid of excess electricity or to pump up power in the grid during high-usage times.

The storage facility’s function has traditionally been filled by fossil fuel-burning plants. The new energy storage facility, due to be inaugurated during a ceremony in Stephentown on Tuesday, eliminates the need for 10 percent of New York’s 200 megawatts of capacity required for grid stabilization. And it is able to absorb and inject power at a much faster rate than traditional plants -- in seconds rather than minutes.

The $69 million dollar project, owned and developed by Tyngsborough-based Beacon Power Corp. and backed by the U.S. Department of Energy and the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA), was completed in January and ramped up to full capacity last month for the first time.

According to Bill Capp, president and CEO of Beacon Power, the flywheel technology makes this the first
such energy storage facility in the world.

It is considered green energy technology because it uses momentum rather than fossil fuel to stabilize electricity levels in the grid. And because it can react so quickly to power supply changes, it makes the use of inconsistent sources like wind and solar more palatable to the overall power grid.

"It allows for the deployment of more renewable energy by quickly adjusting to meet variations from wind and solar," Capp said.

The flywheel, suspended between two magnetic fields to reduce friction, is set spinning at 16,000 revolutions per minute by electricity pulled from the grid during periods of low usage. When more power is needed in the grid, the momentum of the spinning flywheel engages a generator to produce electricity and inject it back into the grid.

Several of these operations happen from one minute to the next and are controlled remotely by grid operators. There are a total of 200 flywheels in use at the new facility.

Figures provided by Beacon show that a 20-megawatt flywheel plant can reduce coal-fired plant CO2 emissions by more than 300,000 metric tons over a 20-year span, which is the equivalent of planting 660,000 trees.

The facility works at 90 percent energy efficiency, makes very little noise and is, for the most part, underground, said Beacon Power spokesman Gene Hunt.

The plant will likely operate for a minimum of 20 years without maintenance, he added.

A $43 million conditional loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy and a $2 million grant from NYSERDA formed an essential part of the project’s financing formula, Hunt noted.

"We provided $2 million because we do feel it holds a lot of promise and we’re hoping it will provide us with a more stable, reliable and efficient electric grid," said Dayle Zatlin, associate director of communications for NYSERDA. "We are always looking for new ways to provide clean energy and, in this case, clean energy storage. And we are certainly interested in any projects like this in New York State."

The company is now planning a second flywheel energy storage facility in Hazle Township, Pa. with completion anticipated for late in 2012, Hunt said.

Capp noted that in the future, Beacon Power will likely leave development of flywheel energy storage facilities to others while the company produces and sells the flywheel storage hardware to other developers.