A small company based in Union City is quietly conducting underground field tests of their flywheel energy storage system at Alameda Point. The mechanical device seeks to accomplish the same result as battery storage, only cheaper and with completely recyclable materials. The system is ideally suited for storing electrical energy created by commercial size solar facilities.
Working with the City of Alameda, Amber Kinetics is leasing space on an old tennis court next to the O Club at Alameda Point. The two concrete vaults that they installed in the ground to house their flywheel system go down seven feet. That’s how far they were able to dig before hitting the layer of hydrocarbon residue called the Marsh Crust. Digging into the Marsh Crust would have complicated the testing and created added expense. Since there is no electrical service at the site, they brought in their own generator to perform the tests, which they store in a shipping container.
Their test is being partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under the Smart Grid Demonstration Program. The DOE Project Description says in part: “The goal is to deliver a cost-effective prototype flywheel system that can be grid connected and electrically charged and discharged. The flywheel stores energy in a spinning rotor that is connected to an electric motor that converts electrical energy into mechanical energy. To recover the energy, the motor is electrically reversed and used as a generator to slow down the flywheel converting the mechanical energy back into electrical energy. Amber Kinetics will improve the traditional flywheel system by engineering breakthroughs in three areas, resulting in higher efficiency and radically reduced cost: bearings, low-cost rotor, and high-efficiency motor generator. This technology can also be used to optimize existing infrastructure.”
According to a DOE report on energy storage from December 2013, so-called distributed storage facilities like the type being tested at Alameda Point can improve the efficiency and reliability of high power transmission lines. They would do so by reducing “line-congestion and line-loss by moving electricity at off-peak times, reducing the need for overall generation during peak times. By reducing peak loading (and overloading) of transmission and distribution lines, storage can extend the life of existing infrastructure.” The report also notes the value of distributed electrical storage for emergency preparedness.
According to the company, benefits of their system would be:
- Green job creation
- Electricity costs lowered
- Renewable energy integration
- U.S. energy security strengthened
- Greenhouse gas emission reduced