Energy Storage News

Beacon Power Manufactures Composite Flywheels for Frequency Regulation

Beacon Power is manufacturing carbon composite flywheels with an energy storage capacity of 25kWh. They plan to deploy them in large arrays to provide frequency regulation services for the grid. Here are some statements from their website:

"To ensure a functional and reliable grid, the Independent System Operators (ISOs) that operate the various regional grids must maintain their electric frequency very close to 60 hertz (Hz), or cycles per second (50 Hz in Europe and elsewhere). When the supply of electricity exactly matches the demand (or "load"), grid frequency is held at a stable level. Grid operators, therefore, seek to continuously balance electricity supply with load to maintain the proper frequency. They do this by directing about one percent of total generation capacity to increase or decrease its power output in response to frequency deviations. What is frequency regulation?"

"Not all generators can operate reliably in such a variable way. Changing power output causes greater wear and tear on equipment, and fossil generators that perform frequency regulation incur higher operating costs due to 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."

"Over the last decade, Beacon Power, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), California Energy Commission (CEC), the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and various ISOs, has developed an advanced flywheel-based energy storage technology to perform fast-response frequency regulation. This technology has highly attractive performance attributes, low variable operating costs, and produces zero direct CO2 greenhouse gas or other emissions."

"A global industry exists for Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) systems. Beacon's flywheels have the capability to supply highly reliable backup power. As a replacement for battery-based UPS systems, flywheel technology has the advantage of being virtually maintenance-free compared to maintenance-intensive and less-reliable battery-based UPS. The challenge for market acceptance of flywheel-based UPS is cost. As Beacon scales up production of its flywheels for frequency regulation, we expect to lower costs based on the learning curve and volume production effect. Over time, we expect to be able to participate in the global UPS market in a variety of sub-applications, especially those requiring very high reliability and minimal need for maintenance. Our core technology can also be used as part of a flywheel design with a higher power-to-energy ratio, cost-effectively aligning with some UPS application requirements."

"The Smart Energy 25 flywheel system includes 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."

"Beacon's flywheel systems store far more energy compared to other commercially available flywheels. Our 4th generation flywheel stores a full 25 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of extractable energy - up to ten times as much energy compared to other flywheel systems. This is made possible with the use of high-strength carbon composites that tolerate more stress than metal flywheels; proprietary technology that optimizes rotor dynamics (i.e., "balance"); the large size and mass of our flywheels (mass times speed is directly proportional to energy stored); and the use of permanent and magnetic lift bearings that allow the carbon composite mass to spin with almost no energy loss. Most other flywheel systems are designed to deliver high power for a very short period, from 10 to 30 seconds, and their use is primarily limited to uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems. Because Beacon's flywheels by comparison can store much more energy, each one of our flywheels is capable of delivering 100 kW of power for 15 minutes. By placing multiple flywheels in parallel, we can deliver frequency regulation at a utility (i.e. megawatt-level) scale."

"TYNGSBORO, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jul. 20, 2009-- Beacon Power Corporation (Nasdaq: BCON), a company that designs and develops advanced products and services to support more stable, reliable and efficient electricity grid operation, announced that it has completed the connection of a second megawatt (MW) of flywheel energy storage to the New England power grid. This new system, which is already producing revenue by providing frequency regulation services, doubles the energy storage capacity now in operation at Beacon’s Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, headquarters. "

"Beacon’s first 1 MW Smart Energy Matrix flywheel system has been absorbing and injecting (i.e., recycling) electricity to provide frequency regulation services on the ISO New England grid since November 2008. In the second quarter of this year, the Company realized significantly lower operating costs for this system, when ISO New England and the local utility, National Grid, changed how National Grid charges Beacon for electricity. The second MW system will also benefit from this cost reduction."

"TYNGSBORO, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sep. 1, 2009-- Beacon Power Corporation (Nasdaq: BCON) announced that on August 26th it applied to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for grants totaling $46.7 million to support funding of the Company’s next two 20 MW flywheel energy storage plants."

"Beacon applied under the Smart Grid Demonstrations program of DOE Funding Opportunity Announcement DE-FOA-0000036, which authorizes approximately $615 million that DOE expects to allocate across seven Areas of Interest. The Company submitted two applications under Area of Interest 2.2, “Frequency Regulation Ancillary Services.” DOE anticipates making grant awards within this Area for one or two storage-based frequency regulation plants totaling an aggregate amount of up to $50 million."

Beacon's flywheels have a much larger storage capacity (25kWh) than Pentadyne's (0.53kWh) which I discussed in an earlier post. They operate at lower rpm (16,000 compared to 56,000), but they may have larger a radius so that lower angular speed may not imply lower performance.

It is interesting that Beacon regards the UPS market for flywheels as something that they might enter in the future when their manufacturing costs have gone down, while Pentadyne has already successfully entered this market. Apparently Beacon thinks that frequency regulation for the grid can command a premium price compared to the UPS market. It is far from clear to me that Beacon's attempt to enter this market will be successful.

Beacon has not published a lot of detail about the operation of their flywheels, so I do not know how much power they consume relative to their storage capacity. However, it is clear that Beacon intends them to smooth load fluctuations in time periods on the order of seconds or minute, not hours. Anyone hoping that flywheels can shift wind generation from night time to day time will be disappointed by this product.

September 14, 2009

Energy Storage News

rogerkb [at] energystoragenews [dot] com