Flywheel Energy Storage Hits the High Seas

Things are looking up for Beacon Power. The Tyngsboro, Mass.-based developer of flywheel energy storage technology has announced a $3 million contract with U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command to look at flywheels for shipboard applications. Beacon’s flywheel technology uses spinning discs to help stabilize electricity grids, allowing the grids to run more efficiently.

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Last November, the company reined in plans on its first commercial project, blaming market volatility, and lowered its capacity target to 3 megawatts (MW) by the end of 2008, down from 5 MW. But that project, currently at 1 MW and operating out of Tyngsboro under ISO New England‘s Alternative Technologies Regulation Pilot Program, was dealt another blow by severe winter weather, which pushed back that new target to the end of the first quarter of this year.

The company still plans to hit 5 MW by the end of this year, but those extra megawatts of capacity — originally expected to be added onto the ISO New England project — will come from a development in Stephentown, N.Y., and a second site to be set up with either PJM Interconnection or Midwest ISO.

After getting hit with turbulent markets and snowstorms, will Beacon be able to weather the stormy seas of a Naval ship? The company said the power systems of Navy ships are basically mini-grids, supporting advanced launch systems, weapons, sensor systems, and other shipboard functions, and that it can use its experience with land-based grids on the project.

Under the Navy contract, Beacon said it will analyze future shipboard energy storage needs and identify applications that could work best with flywheel technology. The company said the initial research and development work is estimated at $900,000, with $500,000 of that already appropriated.

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