1 of 5

Buy Photo

Felix Adamo / The Californian

Open panels show the electronics of the ARES shuttle. ARES Founder and Director of Technology Development Bill Peitzke is at left and CEO Jim Kelly is at right.

2 of 5

Buy Photo

Felix Adamo / The Californian

Electrical system engineer Larry Howes checks the clearance between the ARES shuttle and the electric conductor rail as the shuttle makes it's way up a 9 percent grade at Victory Springs Ranch in Tehachapi.

3 of 5

Buy Photo

Felix Adamo / Ther Californian

Bill Peitzke is the founder and director of technology development of Advanced Rail Energy Storage.

4 of 5

Buy Photo

Felix Adamo / The Californian

The ARES shuttle is designed to use gravity to produce electricity.

5 of 5

Buy Photo

Felix Adamo / The Californian

Using rail track on a 9 percent grade, the ARES shuttle will use gravity as an alternative energy source to produce electricity. Electrical system engineer Larry Howes is at left, and computer programmer John Underhill is at right.

Century-old railroad technology is mixing with green-style innovation at an energy storage project now being tested in the heart of Kern County's wind power region.

Santa Barbara-based Advanced Rail Energy Storage recently began running a specially designed locomotive up and down quarter-scale railroad tracks a few miles outside Tehachapi.

The idea is to use gravity instead of rechargeable batteries. Trains powered by wind turbines and photovoltaic solar plants would pull heavy loads up a hill. When an electric utility gives the signal that it needs power, the train would be released to roll back down the hill, generating a steady supply of juice much the way a hybrid electric car recharges its batteries.

ARES hopes the tests support its claim that steel wheels on steel tracks are more efficient than other storage projects, including pressured air storage, rechargeable batteries and the most common method: pumping water uphill and letting it flow through a hydroelectric generator.

Key measures of ARES' success will be how quickly its design responds to demand and how much energy is lost in the process. If successful, the system could make renewable energy more reliable and less prone to spikes in output.