Spinning flywheels said to make greener energy

> (The Associated Press) - Sep 20 - By JAY LINDSAY Associated Press
> Writer
> Spinning flywheels have been used for centuries for jobs from
> making pottery to running steam engines. Now the ancient tool has been
> given a new job by a Massachusetts company: smooth out the electricity
> flow, and do it fast and clean.
> Beacon Power's flywheels - each weighing one ton, levitating in a
> sealed chamber and spinning up to 16,000 times per minute - will make
> the electric grid more efficient and green, the company says. It's
> being given a chance to prove it: the U.S. Department of Energy has
> granted Beacon a $43 million conditional loan guarantee to construct a
> 20-megawatt flywheel plant in upstate New York.
> "We are very excited about this technology and this company,"
> said
> Matt Rogers, a senior adviser to the Secretary of Energy. "It's a
> lower (carbon dioxide) impact, much faster response for a growing
> market need, and so we get pretty excited about that."
> Beacon's flywheel plant will act as a short-term energy storage
> system for New York's electrical distribution system, sucking excess
> energy off the grid when supply is high, storing it in the flywheels'
> spinning cores, then returning it when demand surges. The buffer
> protects against swings in electrical power frequency, which, in the
> worst cases, cause blackouts.
> Such frequency regulation makes up just 1 percent of the total
> U.S.
> electricity market, but that's equal to more than $1 billion annually
> in revenues. The job is done now mainly by fossil-fuel powered
> generators that Rogers said are one-tenth the speed of flywheels and
> create double the carbon emissions.
> Beacon said the carbon emissions saved over the 20-year life of a
> single 20-megawatt flywheel plant are equal to the carbon reduction
> achieved by planting 660,000 trees.
> Flywheels also figure into the emerging renewable energy market,
> where intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar provide power
> at wildly varying intensities, depending on how long the breeze blows
> and sun shines.
> That increases the need for the faster frequency buffering, Rogers
> said.
> Dan Rastler of the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry
> research group, added that if a carbon tax is passed by Congress,
> flywheels start looking a lot better than fossil-fuel powered
> alternatives.
> Beacon's flywheels, massive carbon and fiberglass cylinders, have
> already been tested on a small scale in New York, California and the
> company's Tyngsborough offices. Chief executive officer Bill Capp
> hopes the Stephentown, N.Y., plant will be up and running by the end
> of 2010.
> Flywheels are rotating discs or cylinders that store energy as
> motion, like the bicycle wheel that keeps rotating long after a
> pedal's been turned.
> That energy can be drawn off smoothly depending on the needs of the
> user, such as when the speed of a potter's wheel is adjusted to shape
> the clay as desired.
> The basics of Beacon's flywheels seem simple enough as they spin
> silently in their chambers in a small facility outside Beacon's
> Tyngsborough plant. But the technological challenges to create them
> were immense and have cost Beacon $180 million, so far.
> For instance, the one-ton flywheel had to be durable enough to
> spin smoothly at exceptionally high speeds. To avoid losing stored
> energy to friction, the flywheel levitates between magnets in a vacuum
> chamber.
> "We've pretty much demonstrated that it works, it's just a
> question of scaling," Capp said. "The more we run, the more people get
> comfortable with us."
> Beacon's flywheels are powered by the excess energy they take off
> the grid. When demand for electricity surges, the flywheels even
> things out and return the energy to the grid by slowing down.
> Flywheels have some clear benefits in energy storage, including
> the durability to store and release power hundreds of thousands of
> times over a long, 20-year life, said Yuri Makarov, chief scientist in
> power systems at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which tested
> Beacon's system for the DOE. Chemical batteries being developed for
> the same job wear out after a couple thousand charge-and-discharge
> cycles.
> Flywheels use less energy than fossil-fuel powered generators
> because they adjust more quickly to the ever-shifting demands of the
> electric grid by simply slowing down or spinning faster, Makarov said.
> Fossil-fuel generators are slower and less efficient as they
> constantly fire up and down.
> The disadvantage of flywheels, Makarov said, is that they can
> only store a limited amount of energy for a limited amount of time.
> That can shut them out of numerous other services the grid demands -
> and that other storage technologies can perform - such as long-term
> power storage.
> Regulations in many markets are also lagging. Beacon will bid
> against other power generators to provide frequency regulation, but in
> some markets, the bidding system doesn't even exist yet for energy
> storage.
> Beacon's reward for taking on the technology is that it's the
> first flywheel company in the nation ready to provide utility-scale
> frequency regulation in the electric grid. Rogers said the New York
> project will help show whether the flywheels can do the job:
> "If they're successful in New York, we'd expect this kind of
> technology to be picked up in many other markets around the country,"
> he said.