Here’s an encouraging development in the area of grid-based energy storage: Beacon Power is nudging closer toward construction of its second flywheel energy storage...

Here’s an encouraging development in the area of grid-based energy storage: Beacon Power is nudging closer toward construction of its second flywheel energy storage plant, now that it’s received approval from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to proceed to the second of three phases of Smart Grid Stimulus Grant funding.

The Massachusetts-based company is close to completing and commissioning its first 20-megawatt flywheel energy storage plant in Stephentown, New York. Its second plant, planned to provide the same capacity, is to be located in Hazle Township, Pennsylvania.

Beacon Power’s system uses rapidly spinning carbon-fibre rims on magnetic bearings to store excess energy; they operate in a vacuum to minimise energy loss from friction. When demand on the grid is low or renewable sources produce more power than is needed, the flywheels store the excess as kinetic energy. That energy can then be plugged back into the grid when demand goes up or wind and solar power aren’t available.

Flywheel energy storage is a lot cleaner than relying on peaker-type fossil fuel plants to regulate peaks and troughs in energy demand. It can also be ramped up or down 10 times more quickly than conventional energy frequency regulation methods, according to Beacon Power.

The DOE awarded Beacon Power a $24 million grant smart-grid grant for the Pennsylvania project in late 2009. The department has reviewed all submitted documents relating to Phase II and is now formally incorporating the facility budget into the program plan. After that step is completed, the grant money will be available to reimburse nearly one-half of Beacon’s expenditures on the approximately $50-million facility. That final Phase II step by DOE is expected to be complete within six weeks.

Greenbang

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