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Flywheels over Failure

August 29th, 2012

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Over the past year, American clean energy companies have found themselves in the often-unwanted spotlight of Congress. If you only paid attention to what was being said in Washington, you’d think that the entire clean energy sector was going belly up. Fortunately, that’s not the case. The solar sector is booming, with rooftop installers raising capital and growing sales exponentially. New electric vehicles from Toyota, Ford, and BMW will soon join Tesla, Chevrolet, and Nissan in showrooms across the US. Wind power accounted for 1/3 of new electricity generation added in the US in the past year. And even an energy storage company cited by Congressional critics as an example of the failure of federal clean energy policy is on the comeback.

The return of Beacon Power from bankruptcy is important to understand for people interested in the clean energy sector. Beacon Power provides energy storage by spinning massive flywheels, a technology that’s been proven for centuries. In our modern grid, though, flywheel energy storage provides the ability to quickly provide power, stabilizing the grid during peak demand while more generation, like natural gas plants, is brought on line. While flywheels weren’t generally used for grid scale storage before Beacon Power, the company was offering what the grid needed as more wind and solar were added to our energy mix. The Department of Energy agreed, giving it a $43 million loan guarantee. Read the rest of this entry »