Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Flywheel Energy Storage at Supersonic Speed

Beacon Power Corp. says it has a better idea: massive rotating flywheels that store power like giant alkaline batteries spinning at twice the speed of sound. _BostonGlobe
Flywheel storage stores energy in kinetic form--rapidly spinning wheels, ready for almost instant tapping in case of power failure. But the problem with them is their lack of energy density: they simply cannot hold enough backup energy for more than a short period of time. Rotating energy is defined by its mass and rotational speed. Beacon's flywheels weigh 2500 pounds, but it is Beacon's higher speeds that pack the power:
Beacon Power flywheels are 2,500-pound cylinders made of carbon fiber and fiberglass, and bonded with epoxy. Each is mounted on bearings that generate a magnetic field to support the flywheel, so it floats inside its steel casing. Friction is almost nonexistent. When the flywheel is spun to its full speed of 16,000 revolutions per minute, it can store the energy for hours with little loss.

"The surface speed on this thing would be Mach 2," or twice the speed of sound, Capp said. But these flywheels don't generate a sonic boom, because they operate in a vacuum to reduce friction even more.

At the base of each flywheel is a motor-generator system like those found in hybrid cars. When electricity is added to the system, it acts as a motor, speeding up the rotation. To release power, the system acts as a generator, translating the rotation to electric power and feeding it into the grid....Each flywheel can store enough power to run a typical US home for a full day. But they cost $200,000 apiece, and while Capp hopes to cut the cost to $100,000, they're still far out of the average consumer's price range.

Instead, Beacon Power hopes to address a constant nuisance for electric utilities: precise regulation of power.

...Beacon Power plans to build storage arrays, with dozens of flywheels buried underground inside vaults made from concrete sewer pipes.

A standard shipping container stuffed with computers and power cables controls the array and links it to the electrical grid.

When there's extra power available, Beacon Power would buy it and use it to spin the flywheels. When the grid needs an extra burst of juice, the flywheels can convert the stored energy back into electricity, which is resold to the power network.

"You can almost think of it as recycling electricity," said Gene Hunt, company spokesman. Beacon Power would make its profit by charging a fee for its power regulation service.
Utility load leveling is an incredibly important task. Without utility-scale storage devices, power distribution can be extremely tricky and prone to errors.

In safety terms, it is a good idea for them to bury these massive speedy spinners underground in strong concrete vaults. I wouldn't want to be around when one of these giant tops explodes.

More at MarketWatch

Can you find the error in this NextEnergyNews article?
The company currently building a massive commercial scale system that is capable of storing 5 million watts of power.
Absolutely right! One can supply 5 mega watts of power, but one cannot store 5 mega watts of power. One stores mega watt hours, not mega watts.

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Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

Years ago, I seem to recall, some article appeared about a company hoping to make magnetically levitated flywheels for electric cars. I suspect that these larger, stationary storage devices make more sense but it will be interesting to see how they compete with or perhaps compliment other storage systems that are being developed with utilities and industry in mind.

1:27 PM  
Blogger John Nicklin said...

What is the average daily household power consumption in kilowatts?

4:04 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

Baron: Since flywheel energy is a function of both mass and rotational velocity, the heavy stationary flywheels have more storage potential if they can achieve the same speeds.
Stationary applications do not have to fight changes in momentum (gyroscope effect).

John: Average household power consumption varies widely. The average seems to be slightly higher in N.A. than in Europe. Higher in Europe than BRIC emerging nations. Higher in BRIC than the undeveloped world.

Average use in N.A. is 1.3 kw instantaneous, or just over 30 kw hours a day, almost 1000 kw hours in a month. Of course Al Gore consumes over 20 times that much, even when he is not at home.

9:27 AM  

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