Technology 4 min read

How Gravity Trains Could Make Energy Storage More Efficient

Denis Belitsky /

Denis Belitsky /

A California gravity train system has the potential to help power grids conserve excess energy. We examine how this old tech could bring in new energy innovations.

Nestled between the border of Nevada and Arizona is a legitimate piece of American history called the Hoover Dam.

Hoover took massive amounts of money, manpower, and over one hundred human lives to build. It’s a monument to what mankind can do with nature, and it’s a useful one. The dam provides public and private power for three states, including Nevada, Arizona, and California.

The dam shows us how geographical features can be used for energy, which is something that inspires engineers to this day. This is good, too, as renewable energy is more critical than ever in our modern world.

Which brings me to an old innovation that has recently crossed my desk: Gravity trains.


The idea of a gravity train seems simple, which is part of its beauty. What’s more, the concept could be modified to work in multiple different areas of the world. All it takes is a little ingenuity and knowledge of the land.

#GravityTrains : Simple, Beautiful, and Heavy #300tons #thatsabigcabooseClick To Tweet

For a good example, just take a look at a California company and their Advanced Rail Energy Storage System or ARES.

All Aboard the Gravity Train

The ARES system isn’t a total power solution, but it does help make power grids more efficient.

ares concrete gravity train

Power grids get varying levels of demand throughout a 24-hour cycle. When demand is light, excess energy is produced, and that’s where ARES comes in.

The ARES system is basically a series of heavy concrete blocks on a railway. The excess power from the grid pushes those blocks up an incline. When demand puts a strain on the grid, these blocks are released and go back down the incline. Through the magic of regenerative braking, that kinetic energy gets converted into an extra jolt of electrical current for the grid.

ARES’s Nevada installation will feature a train that weighs 9,280 tons and will traverse an elevation differential of 2,000 ft. As the train moves, it can charge about 56MW of power and discharge about 44MW of electricity into the grid.

It sounds simplistic, sure, and that’s part of its beauty. According to its developer, the system can store energy with an 80 percent efficiency rate. That means that each car can deliver about 8 constant hours of power.

Granted, the ARES isn’t a solution for the entire world. It works so well because it is designed for a particular set of geographical features. This begs the question: How could this work elsewhere?

What’s Weighing Down the Gravity Train?

The gravity train, much like the gravity dam, isn’t particularly new tech. That being said, every new application is a unique innovation. Plus, there is beauty in simplistic engineering, and in using giant blocks to solve your energy problems.

Though I do wonder if it needs to be giant concrete blocks. More fluid motion, such as sand, might be more conducive to conserving energy.

Either way, I think that the key is in the regenerative braking. With that, all we have left to do is to figure out how to use our varied geographical locations to our advantage.

Perhaps locations without hills could use something like the ARES by drilling holes and putting weights on winches. When demand for energy is low, lift up the weight, and drop it when demand goes back up.

Alternatively, we can modify land to have the right grade of incline. That solution is certainly possible, but it’s expensive and can take a lot of manpower. It might be worth it in the long run, geography willing, but it certainly isn’t practical everywhere.

That being said, I’m convinced that the concept of a gravity train has an application anywhere. We just have to figure out how to make it work.

How could a gravity train work in your area?

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Comments (4)
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  1. Windy Joe December 13 at 10:48 am GMT

    for a 300 ton mass to have sufficient potential energy to deliver 50MW for 8 hours it would have to be raised to a height of more than 500km given the stated round trip efficiency

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