A flywheel is a flat disk or cylinder that spins at very high speeds, storing kinetic (movement) energy. A flywheel can be combined with a device that operates either as an electric motor that accelerates the flywheel to store energy or as a generator that produces electricity from the energy stored in the flywheel. The faster the flywheel spins, the more energy it retains. Energy can be drawn off as needed by slowing the flywheel.
Flywheels have been around for thousands of years in the form of the potter's wheel. Modern flywheels use composite rotors made with carbon-fiber materials. The rotors have a very high strength-to-density ratio, and rotate in a vacuum chamber to minimize aerodynamic losses. The use of superconducting electromagnetic bearings can virtually eliminate energy losses through friction.
Flywheels can discharge their power either slowly or quickly, allowing them to serve as backup power systems for low-power applications or as short-term power quality support for high-power applications. They are little affected by temperature fluctuations, take up relatively little space, have lower maintenance requirements than batteries, and are very durable.