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World's Largest Flywheel Energy Storage System

Flywheels are an ingenious way to store energy. Essentially, a giant rotor is levitated and spun in a chamber by way of magnets. Since there is very li...

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|Jun 1|magazine6 min read

Flywheels are an ingenious way to store energy.  Essentially, a giant rotor is levitated and spun in a chamber by way of magnets.  Since there is very little friction, the flywheel spins continually with very little added energy input needed.  Energy can then be drawn from the system on command by tapping into the spinning rotor as a generator. 

Beacon Power is building the world’s largest flywheel energy storage system in Stephentown, New York.  The 20-megawatt system marks a milestone in flywheel energy storage technology, as similar systems have only been applied in testing and small-scale applications. 

The system utilizes 200 carbon fiber flywheels levitated in a vacuum chamber.  The flywheels absorb grid energy and can steadily discharge 1-megawatt of electricity for 15 minutes.  The system takes the place of supplemental natural gas power plants that have been used to balance supply and demand in grid activity prior, boosting energy production during peak demand, and lowering production during peak supply.

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Beacon Power received a $43 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy for construction of the facility.  The company is planning to apply the technology to further applications, such as buffering energy generation from renewables like wind and solar power.  Where these renewable technologies fall short is the inability to store energy without the use of gigantic battery banks.  The flywheel system offers an alternative.

Beacon Power reports that 18-megawatts from the new flywheel storage system are already online, and the system will be operating at full capacity by the end of June.