A Massachusetts company wants to build a unique array of 200 flywheel batteries over several acres to store spare power from New York’s electrical grid and zap it back as needed.
Beacon Power Corp. wants to connect the 20-megawatt, short-term energy storage unit to New York’s power grid in Stephentown, a rural community near the Massachusetts border. The Tyngsborough, Mass., company claims the matrix of batteries would make the grid more efficient and conserve energy, though they have some final hurdles to clear.
Officials in Stephentown will consider a zoning variance for the $50 million-plus facility on June 19, and Beacon is awaiting a crucial permission from the operators of the state’s electrical distribution system, The New York Independent System Operator.
If approved, some of the batteries could be tied into New York’s electricity supply grid by the end of this year.
During a demonstration at its headquarters Friday, the company said it has received a commitment for as much as $5 million in loans to finance its expansion plans. The money is from the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, the state finance and development authority and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the state’s development agency for renewable energy.
Beacon officials say the batteries to be used in the New York project would help NYISO maintain the ever-fluctuating balance between electricity supply and demand across the state. Right now, selected generators regularly bid with the NYISO to gear up or scale back production to keep the grid in balance, which is necessary for reliable electricity service.
Beacon claims they can do a better job than generation plants – or at least a faster job. Beacon’s Gene Hunt said flywheels can balance supply and demand about 100 times quicker.
“It’s the difference between a speedboat and an ocean liner,” he said.
The quicker reaction time would create a more efficient system and conserve energy, he said.
“Clearly there’s an advantage,” Hunt said. “These are clean, they consume no fuel, they have no emissions at all.”
Beacon’s flywheel batteries are different from the chemical batteries in cars and phones. As the name implies, these batteries store power as kinetic energy – think of the way potters’ wheels are hard to stop once they’re up to speed. The flywheels will be encased in vacuum capsules seven feet high and three feet around and will rotate 16,000 times a minute.
Flywheel batteries are nothing new, though lining up a bunch of them to regulate electricity supplies is novel. The Electric Power Research Institute, an industry research group, said this appears to be the first flywheel battery system of this size serving a power grid.
NYISO in its annual energy report noted that energy storage devices could provide significant energy and environmental benefits. But NYISO spokesman Ken Klapp said Beacon’s permission to connect to the grid will be based on an impact study now being conducted.
If approved, Beacon would bid against the power generators who currently perform that service.
Klapp said grid operators, as always, would be concerned with reliability and price.
“It’s just a question of economics,” he said.
Hunt said the rural area close to the Massachusetts line was chosen because it offers a place to plug into the grid and because it’s less than a three-hour drive from the company’s headquarters north of Boston.
They also have applied to build similar flywheel units at their plant northwest of Boston and in Ohio.
By Michael Hill
Associated Press Writer
13 June 2008