High power electric grids have an answer with flywheel energy storage to the fluctuation of the frequency or reversal of electron flow.  In the U.S. the frequency is at 60 cycles per second while in Europe it’s at 50. The cycles are  known as “hertz”.  It’s an important part of using alternating current.  Keeping the frequency in good form requires power, too.  Some 1% or so of the generating capacity is used in managing the frequency.  Clean smooth power for sensitive and frequency reliant devices is a highly desired grid operation.  Now not all generation methods are good at meeting that frequency, it requires a variation of power output.

Quick variation causes greater wear and tear on equipment, and fossil fuel generators that perform frequency regulation incur higher operating costs because of increased fuel consumption and maintenance costs. They also suffer a significant loss in “heat rate” efficiency and produce greater quantities of CO2 and other unwanted emissions when throttling up and down to perform frequency regulation services.

Flywheel technology fits the frequency regulation problem about as well as any idea because of the instant response potential.  Batteries rely on chemicals reacting so are not only huge, expensive, require maintenance, and wear out – they are slow.  A flywheel can repeatedly cycle, essentially endlessly, with a minimum of expense and maintenance.

Beacon Power of Tyngsboro, Mass., has designed and began building a frequency regulating flywheel system.  Last Thursday the Department of Energy said that it has awarded a conditional $43 million loan guarantee to Beacon Power to help with construction of a 20 MW flywheel energy storage plant in Stephentown, N.Y. — the first full-scale commercial deployment of the company’s technology.  That should help boost momentum for flywheel technology as well as the company, which has scored a few key deals in recent months after a rocky end to 2008.

Beacon's Smart 25 Flywheel. Click image for more information.

Beacon's Smart 25 Flywheel. Click image for more information.

Beacon uses large spinning discs contained in a vacuum to keep electricity flowing over the power grid at a steady frequency to helping stabilize the grid and allowing it to run more efficiently. Beacon’s Smart Energy 25 flywheel is a 4th-generation advanced energy storage solution designed to meet the requirements of demanding utility grid applications. It features a long-life, low-maintenance design, highly cyclic (charge-discharge) capability, and zero fuel consumption or CO2 or other emissions. An array of Smart Energy flywheel units can be configured to form a Smart Energy Matrix plant, which can store and return megawatts of energy to maintain grid reliability and stability.

The Smart Energy 25 flywheel momentum system is built with a rotating carbon-fiber composite rim, levitated on hybrid magnetic bearings operating in a near-frictionless vacuum-sealed environment. The rim itself is fabricated from a patented combination of high-strength, lightweight fiber composites, including graphite and fiberglass combined with resins, which allow the flywheel to rotate at high speeds (16,000 rpm) and store large amounts of energy as compared to flywheels made from metals. To reach its operational speed, the system draws electricity from the grid to power a permanent magnet motor. As the rim spins faster, it stores energy kinetically. The flywheel can spin for very extended periods with great efficiency because friction and drag are reduced by the use of magnetic bearings in a vacuum-sealed environment. Because it incurs low friction, little power is required to maintain the flywheel’s operating speed.

The Beacon frequency projects are interfaced with the power operator’s grid such that when a grid operator sends a signal that requests the system to absorb power taking frequency down, the Smart Energy Matrix uses power from the grid to drive the motor/generator, which in turn spins up the flywheel. When a signal is sent for electrical power to be provided pushing the frequency up, the momentum of the spinning flywheel drives a generator and the kinetic energy is converted into electrical energy for release to the grid.  Smooth, quick and nearly energy input free.  A grid wide application of such a system would release about 1% of the generating capacity back to saleable power operation.

That scenario is Beacon’s pitch.  It should work if their costs to the grid operators are in line and a little below generating investment and fuel costs.

Beacon Power’s grid-scale Smart Energy Matrix is made up of multiple integrated systems of (10) Smart Energy 25 flywheels, interconnected in an array, or matrix, to provide energy storage for certain utility applications. The Smart Energy Matrix is can absorb and deliver megawatts of power for minutes, providing highly responsive frequency regulation capabilities for increased grid reliability.

That’s the solid install business so far.  Meanwhile Beacon has begun providing contract services for a wind-related R&D project co-funded by the California Energy Commission. The main objective of the project is to find better ways to coordinate and maximize energy production and delivery from wind generation resources located in the Tehachapi area of California, an area that has insufficient transmission capacity to handle the projected increase in new wind generation. Another goal of the project is to identify potential options for commercializing any new application that might be developed from this effort.  The project includes one of Beacon’s 25 kWh Smart Energy 25 flywheels, as well as the application of “intelligent agent” controls. The primary goal of the project is to find a way to deliver as much wind energy as possible without exceeding the dynamic rating limits of the locally constrained transmission system. Results will be scaled to assess the possible impact of installing a much larger energy storage resource.

Beacon is also finishing a multi-phase R&D project with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Bonneville Power Administration, the California ISO, and the California Energy Commission with a certain installation of a 100 kW, 25 kWhr flywheel that could build out into the megawatts of total flywheel installation.

There are other ideas cooking, such as power leveling for solar due to clouds, similar service for wind, a hybrid design using renewables, conventional fossil fuels, and flywheels and others.

Flywheel technology has been pretty low key.  It doesn’t produce power or use much – it just stores energy.  At scale, at a storage level where intense friction reduction is practical, flywheels look to have a future.  The efficiency ratios have to be superb.  Beacon’s main unit today is 25 kW/hrs so maybe more scale up is needed. But for today, the main groundbreaker is Beacon and they’re doing well.


23 Comments so far

  1. todd davis on July 10, 2009 2:10 PM

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    So you think these flywheels will permit utilities from having to constantly ramp up/down so they can stay in the sweetspot?

    Also do you think the existing players will open the door to Beacon Power concerning tariff modifications. By that I mean the ISO’s.

    I really like what I see but the company is a sub $1 stock. I guess since the technology has never been used thus waiting for confirmation. I did see Beacon completed a couple pilot programs a few years back with success.

    Thank you

    J. Davis

  2. Joseph Rakowski on July 11, 2009 4:52 AM

    Mr. Davis,

    The ISO’s are all onboard it is just a matter of them reivsing the tariffs. Most of which will be done by the end of the year. I also understand your concern about the stock price however consider that GE is at $10. The news this stock has released in the past 2 months should have put it at 3 – 5 put this market is killing it. Five years from now millions of people will be kicking themselves for not buying under a dollar. I have a very large postion and have done my research. I have followed this stock since 2001. It will eventually be bought by one of the big guys. Their technology also has “zero” carbon emissions, what utility would not want a frequency regulation plant that emits no carbon. Also do not forget that this same technology can be used internationally as well!!!!!

    Thank YOu
    Joseph Rakowski

  3. russ on July 11, 2009 2:30 PM

    Joseph – What type of frequency regulation plant does emit CO2? None!

    I am glad you stated you have a large position in this stock so people can easily see you possibly trying to ‘talk it up’.

    Before anyone buys into this in a large way (meaning over say 500 USD) I would suggest they do some very serious study – not take someone else’s word for it being ‘the real thing’.

  4. Joseph Rakowski on July 15, 2009 4:42 AM


    anyone who doesnt do their own research before commiting any money. Should let someone else invest for them. And right now the frequency regulation and back up power at peak times is handled by co2 emitting devices. Power plants that use coal, diesel…this company is a game changer. And trust me I am in it for the long haul I am not trying to pump and dump. I say large position….it is small compared to the 120million shares on the market. The only other competetors for this company are ones which intend to use batteries. The 20 year maint. free flywheel option is a no brainer.

  5. RonHumphrey on July 16, 2009 1:07 PM

    I don’t know how anyone with any knowledge of physics, mechanics, and/or electricity could fail to see that this idea is the answer to creating a new national power grid capable of stabilizing all renewable input sources (wind/solar primarily).

  6. russ on July 16, 2009 10:33 PM

    @ Ron – guess we are just not as brilliant as you seem to be.

    Once it is commercialized and shown to work on an industrial basis – then it is an answer. Until then it is in the dream stage. 25kW is not commercially viable to my way of thinking.

    Maybe they make it – but today no one knows.

  7. RonHumphrey on July 17, 2009 8:02 AM

    Your sarcasim is well taken. Although I am tempted, I will not respone in kind because that would just waste time and energy. I was actually attempting to solicit a response to see if anyone out there felt the way I do. Not everyone looks at every new idea in terms of making a quick profit. I am very much aware of the problems that must to be solved before this idea can evolve to it’s potential. The good news is there are those much smarter than me who see that potential.

  8. RonHumphrey on July 17, 2009 8:15 AM

    Before you waste time correcting my spelling and grammar – I am aware that respond is spelled with a “d” and I think I illustrated my point when I said there were those much smater than “me” instead of “I”.

  9. Joseph rakowski on July 21, 2009 3:43 AM


    If you are so skeptical why do you continue to come back to this article and waste your time on something you believe will not work? It has been tested by 3 different state agencies and has been proven. It is a developmental stage company and will have a very tough road. In this kind of economy and economic enviroment it will not be easy. But some of us believe in the technology and are here for the long haul. One of Sixteen compainies allowed to submit an application that was approved. So some people much smater than us that have no, and I repeat no money at stake….they believe it will work also. They would not have given them 43 million if they didn’t prove to be viable.

  10. RonHumphrey on July 21, 2009 5:47 AM

    Glad to see there are other “true believers” like me. Have you done any reading/research on aerogels? I’m thinking there may be a future for flywheel technology on the smaller (small business and even residential) scale too. I’m also thinking that aerogels and nonotechnology in general could play a big part said developement.

    Thanks for the backup


  11. russ on July 21, 2009 8:37 AM

    Have fun with the flywheels & nonotechnology – Use search to look up the most prominent ideas on the net of the past 5 years and all the wonderful comments about them. The Maglev turbine is one to start on, cars with turbines built in to capture the power of the air passing by (created by an ICE), wind turbines on roofs, giant counterweights like in a clock, on and on.

    Progress has been made and will continue – with no doubt! Which solution is best is the question.

    Spending 43 million on an idea is nothing – the government has spent hundreds of billions and will continue. Some will pan out while most will die a slow painful death.

  12. Joseph rakowski on July 22, 2009 3:48 AM

    Well russ I am glad to see you believe in something. However I own an automotive repair shop. I will tell you that the energy created with a turbine in a car is minimal. Too much resistance and the unit would be too small. Oh and by the way before buying the shop I fixed flight simulators for the navy, and marines. So I am not just a grease monkey. My computer background is what is needed now to fix cars.
    Ron…..Beacon power’s origonal intention was to make the flywheels on a smaller scale. For use in residential just like you mention, but when Capp came in he changed directions. So the potential is definately there.

  13. russ on July 22, 2009 5:13 AM

    @ Joseph I think I said that the car turbine, along with the others I mentioned are nonsense.

    The power for the car mounted turbine is the ICE of the car – which makes it terribly inefficient.

    I don’t know what the computer background has to do with anything but congratulations anyway.

  14. russ on July 22, 2009 5:38 AM

    Today on North American Windpower I see an article where Beacon has placed their 2nd 1 mW unit in service for the New England power grid.


  15. William Taylor on August 3, 2009 7:40 PM

    I have visited Beacon Power and seen their system in action and I can tell you firsthand that it is a game changer.
    The people are dedicated and talented. I believe they will succeed despite the fact that money is tight and it is a new technology easing it’s way into a very conservative industry. I have been buying the stock in bits and pieces for a few years now and I expect that within three years we will see the stock begin a steady climb. Sure, it’s a risk but they are really dedicated to making it work. Time will tell. I think investors who hang on will be richly rewarded.

  16. Brice Bartl on May 26, 2011 9:39 AM

    This post makes a lot of sense !

  17. William Taylor on May 26, 2011 10:23 AM

    And I wish to Hell the stock was not sinking into oblivion. Without a couple of contracts in the next eight months I fear BCON will not make it.
    This is a slow and very painful process for BCON employees and for stockholders.

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  23. Dave on May 3, 2016 8:35 PM

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