A Beacon employee stands next to a complete flywheel storage system. Each system features 10 flywheels and can store enough electricity to provide 1 MW of power for 15 min (250 kWh).  (Source: Beacon Power)

Beacon Power plans on offering 20 MW (5 MWh) units to utilities for back up power and demand levelling purposes.  (Source: Beacon Power)
Volatile energy market fuels demand for energy storage

Rising gas prices haven't just been spurring the automotive market to change, they've also been taking their toll on utility companies, who have struggled with the tradeoffs of raising prices and customer dissatisfaction.  Now creative thinkers at Beacon Power, an interesting startup, have a solution that just might help utilities out.

Beacon Power produces a novel form of power storage in the shape of large carbon fiber flywheels, which spin at 16,000 revolutions per minute -- a surface speed of about Mach 2.  At one meter in diameter and 8,000 lbs, each wheel can provide 100 kilowatts of electricity for 15 minutes.

The company, led by CEO William Capp, is packaging 10 of the flywheels together to give an impressive power output of 1 MW and energy storage capacity of 250 kilowatt hours.  With the average household consuming approximately 8,900 kWh yearly, this would be enough to power a home for over 10 days.

The new technology isn't just about the high energy costs, either -- it can help provide backup power in case of a storm.  Utilities and businesses could adopt the devices to minimize interruptions to customers during storms or brownouts. 

On the environmental side of things, the device could complement intermittent power sources such as wind power and solar power, and use their stored output to avoid incurring extra cost or outages during periods of peak demand.

Says Capp, "These are used for fine tuning to keep everything in balance. The way it's done today is that a dispatcher sends a signal to increase or decrease output."

The device is extremely simple on a most basic level.  Adding electricity spins the wheel faster.  At any time this spin can be converted via a generator to power.  Over time, the wheel slows, but this is a very gradual process.  The technology is among the novel storage technologies being considered for use with alternative energy products.  Another promising technology is molten solar power, which stores solar heat in a briny fluid, for power production in nighttime hours.

However, the flywheels are more promising in a way, in that they can deal with daytime peaks as well.  Capp says that utilities will buy them to help them fulfill emissions restrictions regulations stating, "Rather than generating the power using fossil fuels, we'll be recycling the energy."

The company is marketing plans currently for 20 MW storage facilities, consisting of 20 one megawatt units.

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