Montecito resident Bill Peitzke is the co-founder and director of technology development of ARES (Advanced Rail Energy Storage),
which successfully tested a pilot rail vehicle in its Kern County field. (Felix Adamo photo)
Montecito’s Bill Peitzke builds on the idea that gravity and railroad tracks are just the right combination to redistribute wind and solar energy.
Some railroad tracks, shuttle trains and one steep hill could be the linchpin to solving the world’s renewable energy woes.
The challenge so far lies largely in figuring out how to efficiently store and redistribute the energy generated by solar panels and wind turbines after the sun goes down and the breeze stops blowing.
Bill Peitzke may have the answer.
The longtime Montecito resident has co-founded Advanced Rail Energy Storage (ARES), which aims to store renewable energy while leaving a relatively light environmental footprint and without using any water — a sought-after resource that’s needed for the more commonly used pumped-storage hydroelectricity.
ARES is piloting a project that takes solar or wind energy off an electrical grid and places it into a shuttle train, the motors of which operate as generators to propel the train up a steep hill on a railroad track.
When that potential energy is needed, the parked train descends to the bottom of the incline, where gravity-generated energy is redistributed into the grid.
In that way, Peitzke said, his company is harnessing the power of 100-year-old technology while producing six times more energy than hydroelectric storage.
ARES built and successfully tested a pilot in 2012 on a ranch in Tehachapi, southeast of Bakersfield in Kern County. Now the company is looking to construct the real thing in Pahrump, Nev., a Mojave Desert community near the California border west of Las Vegas.
The first-of-its-kind, 50-megawatt grid-scale ancillary services facility should produce enough electricity to power 50,000 homes, said Peitzke, who serves as director of technology development and has nearly 30 years of experience in the energy business.
Peitzke co-founded the company with San Diego engineer Matt Brown and recently hired CEO James Kelly, a retired Southern California Edison executive.
Before that, Peitzke served as a broker of long-term natural gas contracts and founded Williams Resources Corp. to provide a wide range of energy services.
“I’m passionate about climate change,” he recently told Noozhawk, referring to the lofty renewable energy goals the United States is supposed to soon reach.
In California, 33 percent of electricity must be from renewable sources by 2020 — just five years away.
“That requires a lot of energy storage,” he remarked.
The $40 million Nevada project is going through permitting channels now, although ARES has already struck a deal with the California Independent System Operator to redistribute the energy its trains will produce. The CISO oversees the state’s bulk electric power system, transmission lines and electricity market.
The operation — involving the steepest unmanned traction-driven railroad at an 8-percent grade — will eventually employ 16 people full time in a control room once it becomes fully operational, likely by December 2017.
ARES is already in talks to build similar projects across the country, said Peitzke, who said he is excited to break into a lucrative energy-storage market.
By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer