By: Ryan Avery
LaunchPoint recently received a $250,000 Department of Energy Inventions & Innovations grant to pursue research on a magnetically-levitated energy storage flywheel dubbed Power Ring. Though it is not a panacea, the project could provide some much-needed relief for the presently overburdoned US power system.
A flywheel is a device used to store massive amounts of energy. It works by spinning a metal disc, the momentum of which can be used to provide auxiliary power to the system's load. Though still in concept phase, The Power Ring is a magnetically-levitated version of the flywheel, and will be more cost-effective, provide more power, and will provide more features than current flywheels.
So where might the Power Ring be used? Hospitals have long carried on-site emergency power, so that vital systems could remain operational even during a power blackout. Power Ring technology could be a low-cost replacement for these existing battery-based UPS systems. Power Ring technology could also be used as a buffer stage in a power system in areas prone to brownouts or in situations where excellent power quality was required.
Another use for the flywheel is as a buffer between different sections of the nation's power grid. Currently, the utility grid is one giant system that has to be perfectly in-phase for it to distribute power efficiently. As a result, a problem in one area of the power grid can have a crippling effect on other areas, as the problem ripples through the system. If the Power Ring were installed as an electrical buffer between grid sections, the grid would be stabilized and could be run closer to peak levels. Additionally, features such as peak shaving, frequency regulation, and arbitrage control would lend even more stability to the power grid.