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Ireland announces revolutionary new energy storage plant

15 April 2015

Ireland is to become the first country in Europe to build a new type of ultra-efficient system to store energy generated by renewable sources and feed it back into the grid when required. Initially, the system will use energy from all sources, but it has the potential to resolve the transmission system operators’ dilemma of how to store large amounts of renewable energy created during windy or sunny conditions for instantaneous use when the weather ch

A Beacon Power flywheel plant in the USA - Image: Beacon Power
A Beacon Power flywheel plant in the USA - Image: Beacon Power

At the moment, such energy shortfalls are compensated for with coal or gas-fired power plants, or by hydro pumped storage schemes. Unlike conventional coal and gas generators which have an efficiency ratio of 35-40%, the flywheel operates at upwards of 85-90% efficiency.

The new hybrid flywheel energy storage plant is to be built at a site in Rhode, Co Offaly, with 50 jobs to be created during construction and commissioning. It is expected to come on stream in 2017 with an operating capacity of 20MW.
Flywheel systems consist of an advanced carbon fibre tube, which is floated on magnets inside a vacuum.

Electricity from renewable sources such as wind turbines or solar panels is used to spin the tube or flywheel at very high speeds. Because the flywheel is in a near frictionless environment, it continues to spin very efficiently until such time as the energy is required back in the electricity grid.

At this point, the kinetic energy stored in the flywheel is used to generate power, which is fed back out into grid. Each flywheel is around two metres in height, and they are buried in the ground to reduce visual impact.

The hybrid flywheel will assist in disruption mitigation, during times of unexpected demand or sudden fluctuations in energy supply/demand. The development at Rhode will provide essential system services to suit grid requirements, with the unique ability to do so without delivering electricity to the grid.

The plant is to be built by Irish company Schwungrad Energie Limited, based in Rhode, in collaboration with the Department of Physics and Energy at the University of Limerick. US-based Beacon Power, which develops flywheel energy storage technology, will invest $1m in the plant.

Further funding is also coming from the European Commission's Horizon 2020 research fund, while Offaly based company RR Projects and Enterprise Ireland is also an investor in the project.

Schwungrad Technical Director Frank Burke  said: “Flywheel technology…simply absorbs power, stores it and is continuously ready to respond to any grid requirements to rapidly inject power... It is not a power plant in the conventional sense, but operates as a shock absorber and dynamic energy support system, absorbing and re-injecting small but highly flexible amounts of power to suit grid requirements.

“The site in Rhode was selected due to the historical tradition of electricity generation in the area and the infrastructure available on the brownfield site. Access to the electricity network and other related services can be achieved with minimal disruption. The facility will be unobtrusive -the flywheels are under two metres in height and almost silent in operation.”

Beacon Power President & CEO, Barry Brits said: “Beacon Power is very pleased to be working with the innovative team at Schwungrad and looks forward to supporting the successful implementation of this important project in Ireland. We are optimistic about the potential in Ireland and Europe for short-duration flywheel energy storage as a key tool to help address the grid system stability impacts of leading implementation of renewable energy sources.

“In this ‘new’ energy storage marketplace, we have been providing these kinds of services in the US for over seven years, have accumulated over eight million flywheel operating hours and delivered more than 300 gigawatt-hours of service to electric grid operators.”

Irish electricity network EirGrid said it awaited the facility coming on stream with keen interest. It said the project had the potential to address system operation issues including advanced voltage controls and system services reserve provision, and could provide additional flexibility to the grid and facilitate the integration of high levels of variable renewable energy sources.

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