TYNGSBOROUGH, Mass. - Spinning flywheels have been used for centuries for jobs from making pottery to running steam engines. Now the ancient tool has been given new tasks by a Massachusetts company: smooth out the electricity flow and do it fast and clean.
Beacon Power's flywheels - each weighing one ton, magnetically levitating in a sealed vacuum 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 loan guarantee to construct a 20-megawatt flywheel plant in upstate New York.
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, make 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 Matt Rogers, a senior adviser to the secretary of energy. Rogers said are one-tenth the speed and create double the carbon emissions.