A key energy storage technology for the future, which allows for frequency regulation without wasting extra fuel, takes a big step
"Take an advanced carbon fiber rim, lift it on magnets in a vacuum, spin it at very high speeds and you can store electrical energy."
That's the simple, futuristic description that flywheel maker Beacon Power gives in a short video describing its energy storage technology. If there's excess power on the grid, it can be fed to the flywheels, which speeds up their rotation, and if there's not enough power, energy can be harvested from the flywheels, slowing them down.
While the principles of flywheels have been known for a long time and smaller-scale facilities built, the completion of Beacon Power's 20-megawatt plant on the New York grid is a milestone in energy storage.
The flywheels are a solution to a problem that most people have never heard of: frequency regulation. The grid has to remain in a state of near-perfect balance between generation and loads. But as millions of people turn their lights off and on or wind generations spins up or down, there are times when the power falls a tiny bit beneath the load or vice versa. Then the frequency on the transmission lines drops under or over 60 hertz. Beacon Power says that its flywheel technology will help maintain the frequency, and therefore stability, of the grid.