Flywheel technology saves customers money, electricity

Momentary loss of electricity is more than an aggravation for business owners. While it merely means resetting VCRs or personal computers at home, a commercial business is looking at something worse.

For David Connors, vice president and general manager of Fort Walton Machine and Tool, any momentary loss of power resulted in loss production time for his precision machine shop.

And in some cases, it cost him money as well in terms of repair to damaged equipment or materials.

This led Connors to voice his concerns to Steven Trussell, Industrial Marketing, at the Fort Walton Beach District office.

"A loss of power could cost David at least $2,000 each time it happened," Trussell said, "or worse, depending on the situation."

Listening to Connors` frustration, Trussell quickly thought of a solution.

"Some time ago, it was brought to my attention that Southern Company was working on inertial energy storage or flywheel technology," Trussell said. "It was in a testing environment, but Connors` situation seemed like an ideal real-world application to use it for."

In fact, Fort Walton Machine and Tool is the first in the nation to have the flywheel technology in operation as its power back-up, Trussell said.

There is testing going on in other parts of the country, but the joint effort between Gulf Power, Southern Company and Active Power appears to be the first with an actual application where a business is using the technology.

Active Power, based out of Austin, Texas, designed the flywheel called CleanSource in 1995. The beta unit was shipped to Fort Walton Beach for this operation.

"This technology is perfect for any business which has any kind of need for a power back-up system," he said, "whether you`re talking about an industrial-type application like this one or a commercial business with a number of computers. The key is the critical load of the business."

The flywheel, which is 11 inches tall by 31 inches wide and housed inside a storage box, looks much like an industrial-strength refrigerator. The wheel spins continually, storing electrical power while the business has electrical service.

The unit replaces the battery bank, which many businesses rely on for back-up power. The flywheel fits in a space much smaller than the typical battery bank. A computer monitor tracks the electrical current into the business. Should a spike or drop occur, the flywheel switches from a power storage to a power supply mode. Depending on the business` electrical load, the flywheel can supply the electrical needs for a matter of several seconds or several minutes.

An alarm system consisting of a siren and a flashing "red" light alerts employees to any prolonged power outage so they can shut down their equipment before the flywheel depletes its stored power. It also allows time for the business to switch to a back-up generator, if applicable.

Fort Walton Machine and Tool has been running on the flywheel system since August 1997. Trussell and Southern Company are using the application as a demonstration site for other companies interested in the technology.

"I`d encourage anyone who has an application where this technology might work to come over and check it out," Trussell said. "The potential is limitless."