Beacon Power, based in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, is a pioneer and global leader in the design, development and commercial deployment of flywheel-based energy storage systems at the utility scale for power grid efficiency, grid reliability, renewable power integration, frequency regulation and other ancillary services. Beacon has over 40 MW of flywheel systems in operation at three commercial plants, operating in three different US Independent System Operator markets.
Beacon Powerwas founded in 1997 to develop advanced flywheel energy storage technology based on a unique design powered by a high-speed carbon and fiberglass composite rim. The company’s narrowed its application focus in 2004 to the development of a system that could “recycle” electricity on a real-time basis from the grid, absorbing it when demand dropped and injecting it when demand increased. After successful demonstrations in California and New York over the next fewyears, Beacon introduced its grid-scale Series 400 system in 2008 with its first operating plant installation in Tyngsboro.
Flywheel energy storage works by accelerating a rotor (flywheel) to a very high speed and then storing the energy in the system as rotational energy. The key capability is to be able to retain the rotational energy over extended periods of time. When energy is extracted from the system, the flywheel's rotational speed is reduced as a consequence of the principle of conservation of energy; adding energy to the system correspondingly results in an increase in the speed of the flywheel.
Beacon’s rotor assembly spins up to 15,500rpm. The rotor assembly is enclosed in a sealed vacuum chamber, which provides a near frictionless environment and also eliminates exposure to oxygen and moisture, which extends the life of the internal components. To reduce wear and further extend the life of the internal parts while minimizing friction, a magnetic lift system uses a non-contacting magnetic field to fully lift and support the rotor. Beacon’s patented top and bottom bearing system ensures the spinning rotor maintains its axis of rotation with extremely low bearing loads. The system is designed to perform well over 100,000full depth charge and discharge cycles, which outperforms and outlastsmany other storage technologies in high-cycle applications, and the robust design minimizes the need for flywheel system maintenance.
Beacon’s product is a complete customizable system that includes flywheels and bundled power electronics that provides clean and stable AC electricity as the output of the flywheel system. It can be operated based on Automatic Generation Control signals or it can sense and respond on its own to activity on the grid. The Power Control module allows stored energy to be seamlessly coupled to the grid thereby enabling instantaneous response and maximum operational flexibility. Charge and discharge rates are symmetrical and there is no need to limit state-of-charge to specific ranges. The long lifespan of the system results in lifetime costs that are lower than competitive solutions in high-cycle applications.
Beacon’s three operating plants are in Tyngsboro, in Stephentown, New York, and in Hazle Township, Pennsylvania. The Hazle plant came online with its first 4 MW of storage capacity in September, 2013 and reached its full capacity this past July. The plant includes 200 flywheels and provides 20 MW of frequency regulation to the PJM interconnection market — the world’s largest wholesale electricity market. In total, Beacon Power flywheel systems have accumulated over 7 million operating hours and a throughput of more than 265,000 MWh.
In August of 2014, Beacon Power and TDX Power, an Alaska Native Village Corporation (ANC) for the Community of St. Paul, announced a new partnership for the Saint Paul Island Flywheel Demonstration project. Located in the middle of the Bering Sea, this project will integrate Beacon Power’s flywheel energy storage system into TDX’s existing wind-diesel microgrid. Beacon flywheel energy storage systems store and inject power to compensate for fluctuations in wind generation. During periods of excess wind, the flywheel energy storage system absorbs energy and then recycles it back into the system to ride through subsequent drops in wind production providing time to start-up backup generators. As a result, TDX will reduce both wind curtailment and its diesel fuel consumption. Adding in Beacon’s technology to the microgrid will stabilize and support it and is expected to reduce operating time of the diesel-fired backup generation units by 10 to 15 percent.
In 2012, Beacon Power, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rockland Capital, a private equity firm focused on investments in the North American power sector, acquired the assets from Beacon Power Corporation. Since that acquisition, Rockland has provided the necessary resources and direction to assist Beacon Power in optimizing their flywheel systems and gaining market access. Beacon is well positioned to provide flywheel-based energy storage resources where they can help maintain a reliable, cost-effective and stable power grid.