The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded a stimulus grant to Beacon Power Corp. valued at $24 million, for use in the construction of the company’s second 20 MW flywheel energy storage plant, to be located in Chicago, Illinois.

Bill Capp, Beacon president and CEO, said “DOE has long supported Beacon’s pioneering efforts to bring our clean, sustainable and cost-saving energy storage technology to the grid. This $24 million grant, which is the 4th largest out of 16 energy storage grants announced today, represents the most significant financial boost Beacon has ever received from the federal government. We believe it underscores the unique value and stabilizing benefits of our grid-scale flywheel systems. We’re very grateful for DOE’s continued support.”

Capp added: “Thanks to DOE’s strong support, we can now continue to move forward with plans to build and operate a second 20 MW regulation plant, in addition to the one we’ve begun work on in Stephentown, New York. Doing so will expand our merchant service provider business model in the regulation market, and create a foundation for promoting and selling turnkey systems to vertically integrated utilities here and overseas.”

According to DOE, the funding award is to “design, build, test, commission and operate a utility-scale 20 MW flywheel energy storage frequency regulation plant in Chicago, Illinois, and provide frequency regulation services to the grid operator, the PJM Interconnection. The project will also demonstrate the technical, cost and environmental advantages of fast-response flywheel-based frequency regulation management, lowering the cost to build a 20 MW flywheel energy storage plant to improve grid reliability while increasing the use of wind and solar power.”

The grant for the Chicago facility results from one of Beacon’s two applications for DOE Smart Grid demonstration project funding, known as Funding Opportunity Announcement DE-FOA-0000036. Area of Interest 2.2 of the DOE solicitation contemplated one or two grants for Frequency Regulation Ancillary Services projects. The Department made only one award, which was for Beacon’s 20 MW regulation plant. The grant award of $24 million is for 50% of the project’s estimated cost. DOE will provide further details of the grant conditions in the near future.

Flywheel Energy Storage and Frequency Regulation

Frequency regulation is a grid service that is performed by maintaining a tight balance between electricity supply and demand. Beacon’s 20 MW plant has been designed to provide frequency regulation services by absorbing electricity from the grid when there is too much, and storing it as kinetic energy in a matrix of flywheel systems. When there is not enough power to meet demand, the flywheels inject energy back into the grid, thus helping to maintain proper electricity frequency (60 cycles/second).

Thanks to their ability to recycle electricity efficiently and act as “shock absorbers” to the grid, Beacon’s flywheel plants will also help support the integration of greater amounts of renewable (but intermittent) wind and solar power resources. Unlike conventional fossil fuel-powered generators that provide frequency regulation, flywheel plants will not consume any fuel, nor will they directly produce CO2 greenhouse gas emissions or other air pollutants, such as NOX or SO2.