Clemson opens $110 million renewable energy center in Lowcountry

(Stacy Jacobson/WCIV)

By Stacy

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Clemson University held a grand opening for its $110 million Energy Systems Innovation Center in North Charleston Thursday.

U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman, Clemson President James Barker and other officials were among an estimated 1,000 people who attended the grand opening at the center on the old Navy Base.

"The Southeast has a world-class offshore wind resource, and now also has a world-class research center to develop the technology to capture this resource and turn it into clean, affordable energy for our region," said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE). "With this facility, the Palmetto State will become the epi-center in our country for research and development of these advanced turbine designs, pulling the economic advantages of leading companies and people to the Lowcountry of South Carolina."

The 82,000-square-foot facility houses the world's largest wind turbine drive train testing rig as well as a 15-megawatt electric grid research facility. The center, financed in part by $45 million in federal stimulus money from the Department of Energy, is located at the old Charleston Naval Base.

The building houses a 7.2-million-pound machine that tests wind turbines.

In fact, it's the largest wind turbine testing machine in the world, according to Clemson officials. Clemson chose to build it in the Lowcountry, because of its industrial environment and proximity to the port, officials said.

"We have a port here," said Imtiaz Haque, Clemson's principal investigator for the facility. "Some of these gear boxes will be 12 meters in diameter. They've very large. So what easier way to ship than by sea?"

The machine has a motor that is so powerful, it can simulate the power of wind energy. The turbines get plugged in to it so researchers can test them in the controlled environment at the facility.

"Wind turbines have issues with reliability. We are creating a facility here that allows us to test gear boxes and generators for wind turbines so we can improve reliability and be able to provide research for wind and the energy industry," Haque said.

The U.S., Deputy Secretary of Energy said the facility meant South Carolina can lead the way in growing renewable energy worldwide.

"You've got federal participation, state, industry, academia. This is America at its best. We're out there competing. We're inventing technology made in America, sold here and we'll be selling overseas," Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman said.

The facility immediately provides about 100 new jobs, but there could be more to come as research continues, officials said.

"Offshore wind energy isn't a new concept, the first offshore wind farm was built off Denmark in 1991; but, because of regulatory hurdles, offshore wind farms have not yet been built here in the United States," said Simon Mahan, Renewable Energy Manager at SACE. "Clemson's efforts are vitally important to help reduce the costs and increase the reliability of offshore wind turbines. "

It's part of Clemson's Restoration Institute that includes the building with the lab where the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley is being preserved.

Next year, ground will be broken on a $21 million Graduate Education Center at the complex.

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