Flywheel effect

The flywheel, a device used since ancient times, may help provide some of California’s future energy needs and reduce harmful greenhouse-gas emissions at the same time, the California Energy Commission announced last week. The flywheel is an integral part of the Smart Energy Matrix system being developed by Massachusetts-based Beacon Power. The system, which may one day help regulate the state’s electrical grid, recently passed the commission’s critical project review and is now one step closer to production.

Simply put, when electrical supply to the grid fluctuates upward, the system stores excess energy as momentum in a heavy, spinning flywheel—think of the driving device on a potter’s wheel. When demand causes supply to spike downward, the stored energy is released from the flywheel. The system helps regulate the frequency of the electrical grid.

“California has made a significant commitment to deploy renewable energy, placing greater demands on the state’s electrical grid,” said Energy Commissioner John Geesman. “Technologies such as Beacon’s flywheel-based energy storage system provide attractive options to address these emerging issues.”