What Is The Mechanical Means Of Storing Energy?

Mechanical energy storage involves converting energy into a mechanical form that can be stored and then converted back into usable energy later. Some common ways to store mechanical energy include pumped hydro, compressed air, flywheels, and springs. Mechanical storage has the advantage of being able to quickly release large amounts of energy and provide services like frequency regulation. It can be used to help balance electricity supply and demand.

Mechanical energy storage works by using mechanical means to store either potential energy or kinetic energy for later use. Potential energy can be stored by compressing a gas or lifting a mass. Kinetic energy can be stored by spinning a flywheel or driving a generator to charge a battery. When energy is needed, the process is reversed and the stored energy is converted back into electrical energy.

Compared to chemical batteries, mechanical storage can generally store more energy and has a longer lifetime. It also offers a cleaner and more sustainable way to store large amounts of energy. Key applications include energy management, load leveling, and providing reserve capacity. Overall, mechanical storage provides a flexible and efficient means of large-scale energy storage.

Potential Energy

Potential energy is energy that is stored and held in readiness. There are several ways to store potential energy mechanically:

Gravitational Potential Energy
This is energy stored in an object due to its height above the ground. The higher the object is above the ground, the greater its gravitational potential energy. Some examples include water held behind a dam or objects lifted into the air.

Elastic Potential Energy
Elastic potential energy is energy stored in elastic materials that are stretched or compressed. For example, springs and rubber bands are able to store elastic potential energy when they are compressed or stretched from their natural relaxed state. The energy gets stored in the deformation of the elastic material.

Compressed Air
Pressurized air that is compressed through mechanical means contains potential energy. As the air is compressed, energy gets stored in it. The compressed air can then be released to perform mechanical work.

Kinetic Energy

One way of mechanically storing energy is through kinetic energy, which is the energy of motion. A prime example of kinetic energy storage is the flywheel. Flywheels store energy in the form of rotational kinetic energy by accelerating a rotor to a very high speed. When energy needs to be extracted, the flywheel’s rotational speed is reduced, harnessing its kinetic energy. Flywheels can store electricity as mechanical energy by using an electric motor to accelerate the rotor. This method allows flywheels to act as an energy reservoir for short duration energy storage.

Flywheels possess high power densities, are capable of millions of charge-discharge cycles, and can rapidly store and discharge energy. However, flywheels lose energy over time due to friction. Newer flywheel designs utilize magnetic bearings and operate in a vacuum to minimize these losses. Additionally, flywheels are better suited for short term energy storage as opposed to long duration storage. Nevertheless, flywheels provide a mechanical means of storing kinetic energy for usage when rapid energy discharge is required.

Pumped Hydro Storage

One of the most common ways to store energy mechanically is through pumped hydro storage. This involves pumping water from a lower reservoir to an elevated reservoir when electricity demand is low. The energy used to pump the water uphill is stored as gravitational potential energy. When electricity demand rises, the water can be released from the upper reservoir, flowing downhill through turbines to generate hydroelectric power. This allows energy from periods of low demand to be stored and used during periods of high demand.

hydroelectric dam storing water to generate renewable electricity.

Pumped hydro is currently the largest form of grid energy storage worldwide, accounting for around 95% of all storage capacity. The round-trip efficiency of pumped hydro storage can be as high as 80-90%, making it a highly efficient storage method. The volume of water that can be stored and the height difference between reservoirs determines the total energy storage capacity. Sites with existing reservoirs and natural height differences are often used, but artificial reservoirs and hills can also be constructed.

Pumped hydro provides a means of large-scale, long-duration energy storage essential for stabilizing electricity grids. It allows renewable energy sources like solar and wind to contribute a larger share of grid power. Pumped hydro also provides emergency backup power and helps regulate grid frequency. While requiring substantial infrastructure, pumped hydro remains the most mature and cost-effective mechanical technology for grid-scale energy storage.

Compressed Air Energy Storage

Compressed air energy storage (CAES) uses compressed air to store energy generated at times of low energy demand for use at times of higher demand. This technology allows energy providers to store excess electricity for when it is needed most.

CAES plants pump air into underground caverns or tanks during periods of low energy demand. This air is then held at high pressure, similar to a balloon. When electricity demand is high, the pressurized air is released to power an expansion turbine and generate electricity.

The air compression process requires energy, but because it happens when demand is low, excess or cheaper electricity can be used. This makes CAES a more efficient and cost-effective form of large-scale energy storage than batteries.

CAES plants are currently capable of storing hundreds of megawatt-hours of energy. The compressed air can be held for extended periods of time with minimal losses. CAES provides a proven means of using renewable energy sources more effectively.


Flywheels are mechanical devices that use a spinning rotor to store rotational kinetic energy. They have been used since antiquity in potters’ wheels and spinning wheels. In the context of energy storage, modern flywheels typically use an electric motor and generator attached to a rapidly spinning rotor suspended by bearings inside an enclosure.

The rotor is accelerated to very high speeds, up to tens of thousands of revolutions per minute, by the electric motor. This stores energy in the form of angular momentum. When energy is drawn from the flywheel, the motor acts as a generator to produce electricity, slowing down the rotor. Flywheels can respond to power fluctuations in fractions of a second, much faster than most other forms of energy storage.

Flywheels are suitable for storing energy from intermittent renewable sources like solar and wind and releasing it as needed to smooth grid output. They are useful for grid frequency regulation, UPS systems, and power quality applications. However, flywheels self-discharge over time as some energy is lost to friction and air resistance. Newer flywheel designs use advanced materials like carbon-fiber composites and magnetic bearings to minimize these losses and achieve high energy densities.

Companies like Beacon Power and Vycon have deployed grid-scale flywheel energy storage systems able to store up to 25 megawatt-hours of electricity. With continuing improvements in materials, flywheels have the potential for wider adoption as a green, high-power energy storage solution.

Superconducting Magnetic Energy

One method for storing energy mechanically is through the use of superconducting magnetic energy storage (SMES). This technique relies on magnets and superconductors to store energy with minimal losses.

Superconductors are materials that have zero electrical resistance when cooled below a critical temperature. When a superconducting coil is charged, it will maintain the current flow indefinitely with no additional power. The magnetic field created by the superconducting coil stores the electrical energy.

SMES systems use cryogenically cooled superconducting coils that are able to store large amounts of energy. The longer the superconducting coil can maintain the current, the more energy can be stored. SMES are capable of releasing megawatts of power almost instantaneously, making them useful for stabilizing energy grids and mitigating power quality disturbances.

The main advantages of SMES are high storage efficiency, long storage times, and fast response rates for power output. Challenges include the high cost of superconducting materials and cryogenic cooling systems. Overall, SMES provides a unique mechanical approach to energy storage through the use of magnetic fields created by superconducting coils.


Supercapacitors, also known as ultracapacitors or electrochemical capacitors, are energy storage devices that store energy in an electric field between two electrodes. The electrodes are coated with a porous material that has a very high surface area, allowing them to hold an enormous electric charge.

When connected to a power source, ions in the electrolyte solution migrate to the electrodes, storing positive and negative charges. The charges remain on the electrodes even after the power source is disconnected. The energy is then released when the supercapacitor is connected to a load.

Compared to batteries, supercapacitors can charge and discharge energy much faster. They can also withstand hundreds of thousands more charge/discharge cycles. However, their energy density is generally lower than batteries. Therefore, supercapacitors are useful for short term energy storage and burst power delivery applications.

Hydraulic Accumulators

Hydraulic accumulators are a mechanical means of storing energy by using compressed gas or springs to store hydraulic pressure. They work by using an external pump to pressurize fluid into a cylinder that contains a bladder or piston. As the fluid enters the cylinder, it compresses the gas or spring inside. The compressed gas or spring then exerts pressure on the fluid, maintaining it at high pressure. When the high pressure fluid is released from the accumulator, the stored energy in the compressed gas or spring pushes the fluid back out. This creates a flow and pressure source capable of doing work.

Hydraulic accumulators have the ability to store energy from intermittent or variable power sources and then release it later when needed. They allow hydraulic systems to cope with fluctuations in supply and demand. Applications include shock and vibration absorption, noise reduction, and energy storage in fluid power systems. They are often found in machinery like forklifts, cranes, and factory equipment.

Key advantages of hydraulic accumulators include their fast response times, high power density, and mechanical simplicity. They can charge and discharge quickly to accommodate rapid changes in fluid flow. Hydraulic accumulators have a long service lifetime with minimal maintenance needs. Overall, they serve as an efficient means of storing energy in fluid form for hydraulic power applications.


In summary, there are several effective mechanical methods for storing energy, each with their own advantages and ideal use cases. Pumped hydro storage and compressed air energy storage are commonly used for grid-scale energy storage, while flywheels, superconducting magnets, supercapacitors, and hydraulic accumulators are better suited to smaller scale applications. As renewable energy continues to expand, energy storage will become increasingly important to mitigate intermittency and ensure grid stability. Ongoing research aims to improve storage density, efficiency, lifespan, and costs. Emerging technologies like gravitational energy storage, underwater compressed air vessels, and liquid air energy storage may provide additional options in the future. Regardless of the technology, energy storage will be a key enabler of the global transition to cleaner energy systems.

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