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In a lavish dedication ceremony, North Charleston, S.C.-based Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI) has opened what is being called one of the world's most advanced wind energy testing facilities.

The facility - supported by South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) and Duke Energy - aims to help test and validate new wind turbines, particularly for offshore wind, as well as speed deployment of next-generation energy technology, reduce costs for manufacturers and boost global competitiveness.

Called the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center, the facility will also facilitate research, education and innovation. SCE&G supported the center with a $3.5 million gift.

The Energy Innovation Center can test drivetrains on two test rigs - one up to 7.5 MW and the other up to 15 MW. Weighing more than a Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet filled with fuel, passengers and luggage, specifications for the facility’s 15 MW test rig are so large many of its components have never before been designed, notes CURI.

CURI says the facility, located at a former Navy warehouse with access to rail and water transport, will test machinery that converts both onshore and offshore wind to electricity and allow engineers to simulate 20 years’ worth of wear and tear on drivetrains in a few months.

Further, CURI says the facility’s proximity to the coast also makes it ideal for U.S. and international companies to begin testing larger offshore wind turbines.

The $98 million testing facility was funded by a $45 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and matched by $53 million of public and private funds.

“Developing America’s vast renewable energy resources is an important part of the Energy Department’s all-of-the-above strategy to pave the way to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future,” said Daniel Poneman, Deputy Secretary of Energy. “The Clemson testing facility represents a critical investment to ensure America leads in this fast-growing global industry - helping to make sure the best, most efficient wind energy technologies are developed and manufactured in the U.S.”

According to CURI, testing and research efforts will encompass many facets of the electrical market to help transform the electrical infrastructure into a more distributed, resilient and efficient system. Focus areas include wind and solar energy, energy storage, and traditional energy sources, such as natural gas and diesel systems. Other areas of focus extend to smart-grid and microgrid technologies, fuel cells, aerospace systems, electric vehicle charging systems, and grid security.

Notably, the Energy Innovation Center also has its first client: GE Power and Water says it will use the center’s 7.5 MW test rig next spring to test its drivetrain technology. The unit will be tested over a period of several months to investigate its robustness, reliability and efficiency.

The Innovation Center also will house engineers with two partner companies: Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) and FEV Inc. SRNL will conduct research into grid security and resilience. Germany-based FEV, a developer of advanced powertrain and vehicle system technologies, will establish a research and development center at CURI.

CURI says the 82,000-square-foot facility will also house the Duke Energy Electrical Grid Research Innovation and Development (eGRID) center, a grid simulator that mimics real-world conditions and can help private industry and public researchers better study interactions between wind energy technologies and the U.S. power grid.

The grid simulator will help with compatibility testing, smart-grid technology, modeling and certification. Duke Energy is contributing $5 million to help fund laboratory infrastructure and educational program development and fund a Smart Grid Technology Endowed Chair.

The $10.1 million grid simulator is financed, in part, by a DOE grant and funds from the State of South Carolina and industry partners, including utility companies and certifying bodies.

James F. Barker, Clemson University president, said the facility places South Carolina at the forefront of energy systems testing and research.

“Clemson University is renowned for groundbreaking research, super-computing, engineering and workforce development, but the Innovation Center and eGRID take the university to another level,” Barker said. “The fact two such prestigious companies have put their names on this building undoubtedly will help us attract additional industry partners.”

Photo courtesy of the Clemson University Restoration Institute

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