Near Zero

University of California, Berkeley, 2012 - $20,000

“Grid regulation services” are performed by power companies to ensure that power supply remains equal to power demand within a small margin. They do this with power plants equipped with governors and automatic generation controls to maintain minute-to-minute generation-to-load balance. While this setup is precise, it has several drawbacks: it is inefficient; ramping up power supply quickly puts extreme stress on plant components, shortening their life spans; and current grid regulation services are predominantly provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuel plants. While there are aggressive mandates in place to increase the percentage of renewable energy on the grid, the inherent unpredictability of renewables results in an increased margin for error that threatens grid stability.

This E-Team is developing a new grid-level storage technology, the Near Zero flywheel battery, to absorb energy (renewable or otherwise) when it is in excess and deliver it quickly when there is a shortage. Unlike chemical batteries, which have a limited power output and diminishing cycle life, flywheel batteries can supply quick surges of power in milliseconds with a reliable 20-30 year life span. The team’s plan is not to replace but to supplement current grid regulation operations, enabling more efficient operation of fossil fuels plants in a collaborative integration.