Flywheel Energy Storage Coming of Age

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The search for cheap energy sources has taken center stage. And one of the smartest ways engineers have devised to retool an electric grid is to incorporate more renewable energy sources. To do that, we need to find more efficient ways of storing energy.

One solution that engineers have considered for many years is the idea of using large, heavy flywheels. Spinning rapidly, they can release stored energy and turn a generator that produces electricity.

Flywheel energy storage (FES) works by accelerating a flywheel rotor to a very high speed and maintaining the rotational energy. When the energy is extracted from the system (to turn an electric generator), the flywheel slows down and the energy is converted into electricity.

Most FES systems use electricity to accelerate and decelerate the flywheel, but devices that directly use mechanical energy are being developed. Advanced FES systems have high-strength carbon-filament rotors suspended by magnetic bearings. Spinning at speeds of 20,000 to 50,000 rpm in a vacuum enclosure, these flywheels can reach top speeds in minutes—faster than other forms of energy storage. This gives the electrical utility using such systems a definite leg up in response times. It allows the utility to quickly ramp up or ramp down to meet demand.

After years of false starts, the first large-scale flywheel plant is set to open this year. Beacon Power’s 20-Megawatt plant in Stephentown, New York, features 200 flywheels, each with a magnetically levitated rotor that spins at up to 16,000 rpm.

For another perspective, check out this video:

Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of published articles on health/fitness, "green" issues, TV/film entertainment, restaurant reviews and many other topics. As a former Andy/Belding/One Show ad agency copywriter, he also writes web content, ads, brochures, sales letters, mailers and scripts for national B2B and B2C clients. Please see more of his blogs and view additional job postings on Nexxt.

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