The way we do energy is rapidly changing. Urgent climate and sustainability concerns have thrust the world into an energy revolution with the common goal of replacing traditional sources with renewables like wind energy, solar, and hydro, to name a few.
Australia’s unique topography and advantageous geographic location have positioned the nation as one of the top global generators of renewable energy, particularly wind and solar energy. Renewable energy currently accounts for 32.5% of the total electricity consumption in Australia, a country of over 27.1 million inhabitants. Though replacing traditional sources with clean energy sources is at the heart of sustainable energy strategies, this component is only one piece of the puzzle. Realistically, a successful shift to clean energy will only be possible if the changes cause less disruptions to consumers and the overall current landscape of the energy industry. One key strength of the current energy market is the ability of energy to be stored, saved, and easily accessed when consumers need it the most—for example, at night or during extreme cold or hot temperatures. Consumers expect to have their energy requirements met on-demand. If the clean energy market offers anything less, it will be met with resistance.
This is where the problem arises. Most renewable energy sources are inherently variable and intermittent—solar energy can only be accessed when the sun shines and wind power when the wind blows. For renewable energy sources to be integrated into existing energy infrastructure, they need to operate at a capacity that can support the colossal scale of current utility-scale electricity grids. Identifying a scalable and clean energy storage system is a key part of this puzzle.
One solution has emerged as a potential game-changer- flywheel energy storage technology– among the various contenders vying to bridge the gap between renewable energy sources and large-scale grid electricity infrastructure. Flywheel energy storage systems are a time-tested mechanical technique for storing kinetic energy. They operate by an energy input spinning the flywheel, which stores kinetic energy in a rotational reserve.
Traditionally, flywheel systems have only had the capacity to discharge energy for just a few minutes. However, in recent years, cutting-edge breakthroughs have developed in flywheel technology that demonstrates its unique potential. The pioneer behind the new technology is Amber Kinetics, an energy storage company based in Silicon Valley. The company has gained recognition for developing the first-ever multi-hour flywheel energy storage system, featuring a 4-hour discharge duration and power capacity of 8kW per flywheel unit with no cycle limitation.
In terms of sustainability— the new flywheel technology is promising. The flywheels are constructed from 50% recycled steel, are fully recyclable, and emit no hazardous waste over their lifetime. The overall manufacturing process for flywheels is significantly less carbon-intensive than battery production, which often requires non-recyclable materials to be sourced from different parts of the world. To date, Amber Kinetics has provided 578,000 flywheel runtime hours and discharged 916MWh of energy, demonstrating the capabilities of this technology.
The advent of long-duration flywheel storage technology has sparked the beginning of a new age in the energy storage system industry. It is perhaps the missing puzzle piece that will secure the future of clean energy.