Get ready for powerplants full of flywheels

Beacon Power Corp. says it plans to hire approximately 50 new employees this year at its Tyngsboro, Mass., headquarters, as it ramps up production of its grid-scale flywheel energy storage systems.

It started constructing the nation’s first full-scale 20-MW flywheel frequency regulation plant late last year in Stephentown, New York. The plant has been designed to provide frequency regulation services by absorbing electricity from the grid when there is too much, and storing it as kinetic energy in a matrix of flywheel systems. When there is not enough power to meet demand, the flywheels inject energy back into the grid, thus helping to maintain electricity at a steady 60 Hz.

According to a 2008 study by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a DOE research institution, 1 MW of fast-responding flywheel-based regulation can be expected to provide the equivalent of 2 MW of conventional slow-responding regulation, based on a mix of conventional regulation resources like those used in California. In areas with less hydropower-based regulation than, the comparative advantage of flywheels may be even greater.

Thanks to their ability to recycle electricity efficiently and act as “shock absorbers” to the grid, Beacon’s flywheel plants will also help support the integration of greater amounts of renewable (but intermittent) wind and solar power resources. Unlike conventional fossil fuel-powered generators that provide frequency regulation, flywheel plants will not consume any fuel, nor will they directly produce air pollutants, such as NOX or SO2.

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