Flywheels Get Their Spin Back With Beacon Power's Rebound

Grid stabilization energizes flywheel pioneer Beacon Power and a host of new competitors

3 min read
Flywheels Get Their Spin Back With Beacon Power's Rebound
Whirling Wattage: Beacon Power built a 20-megawatt plant in Hazle, Pa. It started regulating grid frequency in July 2014.
Photo: Beacon Power

Flywheel-based energy storage got a black eye with the 2011 bankruptcy filing of Beacon Power Corp., a leading energy storage company, based in Massachusetts, whose technology upgrades pushed flywheels to grid-scale applications. But that blemish proved ephemeral. New investors pulled Beacon Power out of bankruptcy, and last July the firm started a second commercial facility, in Hazle, Pa., to provide power-grid-regulation services. Beacon is attacking new markets that would take the technology in a new direction, followed closely by new grid-scale flywheel competitors.

Recent entrants in the flywheel field include Boston’s Helix Power, cofounded by former Beacon Power chief technical officer Matt Lazarewicz, and Williams Advanced Engineering, based in Wantage, England, which is scaling up technology from the flywheel-based hybrid drivetrains it built for Formula One race cars.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Stay ahead of the latest trends in technology. Become an IEEE member.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

How to Prevent Blackouts by Packetizing the Power Grid

The rules of the Internet can also balance electricity supply and demand

13 min read
How to Prevent Blackouts by Packetizing the Power Grid
Dan Page

Bad things happen when demand outstrips supply. We learned that lesson too well at the start of the pandemic, when demand for toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, masks, and ventilators outstripped the available supply. Today, chip shortages continue to disrupt the consumer electronics, automobile, and other sectors. Clearly, balancing the supply and demand of goods is critical for a stable, normal, functional society.

That need for balance is true of electric power grids, too. We got a heartrending reminder of this fact in February 2021, when Texas experienced an unprecedented and deadly winter freeze. Spiking demand for electric heat collided with supply problems created by frozen natural-gas equipment and below-average wind-power production. The resulting imbalance left more than 2 million households without power for days, caused at least 210 deaths, and led to economic losses of up to US $130 billion.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less