Beacon Power, a company that makes flywheels designed to provide brief bursts of power to stabilize the grid, declared bankruptcy yesterday, according to Reuters. The company had received a $43 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy last year. It used most of that money to build a 20-megawatt energy storage facility in New York.
The bankruptcy comes several weeks after another loan guarantee recipient, Solyndra, declared bankruptcy. The amount of the Beacon Power loan is far less than the $535 million Solyndra received. Unlike Solyndra, which shuttered its manufacturing facilities, Beacon Power’s energy storage facility is reportedly still up and running.
Beacon Power’s technology was aimed at a niche market called frequency regulation—it helped utilities keep the grid operating near 60 hertz. Ordinarily, this is done by adjusting the output of power plants. It’s possible to do the same thing by storing or delivering energy with a flywheel, which could be cleaner and reduce wear and tear on power plant equipment.
Flywheels don’t store much energy, so they don’t address other needs on the power grid, such as providing continuous energy during times of peak demand to reduce the need for polluting peaking power plants. It also can’t be used to store large amounts of energy from wind farms when it’s windy at night for use during the day.