Clemson University lands $98 million to develop wind turbines

The next-generation wind turbines and drive trains will be tested by the Clemson University Restoration Institute in a move that is expected to create hundreds of jobs and place one of the most important sites for wind energy research and development in South Carolina.

The Clemson University Restoration Institute and its partners have received a $45 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, combined with $53 million of matching funds, to build and operate a large-scale wind turbine drive train testing facility at the institute’s research campus on the former Navy base. The announcement was made by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

A drive train takes energy generated by a turbine’s blades and increases the rotational speed to drive the electrical generator, similar to the transmission in a car.

The award is the largest single grant ever received in the university’s history and represents an enormous economic development opportunity for the region.

The university’s partners are: the Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority; the South Carolina Department of Commerce; the State of South Carolina; South Carolina Public Railways; the South Carolina State Ports Authority; and private partners RENK AG, Tony Bakker and James Meadors.

The testing facility will be housed in Building 69, a former Navy warehouse adjacent to existing rail and ship-handling infrastructure, and will be capable of full-scale highly accelerated testing of advanced drive train systems for wind turbines in the 5 megawatt to 15 megawatt range, with a 30 percent overload capacity.

Building 69 stands at 82,264 square feet on 6.3 acres. It was built in 1942, modified in 1985 and decommissioned in 1995. It served as the main warehouse for the Navy’s storage of non-hazardous materials. The building is unoccupied.

Planning and construction of the facility will begin in the first quarter of 2010 with a targeted operational date in the third quarter of 2012.

John Kelly, executive director of the Clemson University Restoration Institute and vice president of public service and agriculture, said this award will further Clemson University’s strength in research and education and support the establishment of a wind energy manufacturing cluster in South Carolina.

The Department of Energy estimates that South Carolina could gain 10,000 to 20,000 new jobs related to the wind power industry during the next 20 years.

In the short term, the Restoration Institute estimates the initiative will create at least 113 temporary jobs associated with construction of the facility and 21 full-time jobs. It also will generate 568 indirect jobs for a total of 852 jobs.

"As the wind energy market emerges along the East Coast and turbines continue to grow in size and weight, South Carolina is strategically positioned to serve as an industrial hub for this evolving industry," Kelly said.

Kelly acknowledged the contribution of South Carolina’s officials on the grant match component of the Restoration Institute’s proposal.

He thanked particularly Majority Whip James Clyburn, in whose district the facility is located, and Sen. Lindsey Graham; at the state level, Sens. Glenn McConnell, Hugh Leatherman, Larry Grooms and Paul Campbell, Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell and Rep. Dan Cooper; other members of the South Carolina Congressional Delegation; the State Ports Authority; the Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority; and the South Carolina Department of Commerce. The grant wouldn’t be possible without the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

"I would like to thank everyone connected with the proposal for working so tirelessly to help bring the drive train testing facility to South Carolina and the Lowcountry," Kelly said.

While current turbine technology has enabled wind energy to become a viable resource in today’s energy market, continued technological advancement will be required to achieve the "20 Percent Wind by 2030 Scenario," as determined by the Department of Energy.

Nick Rigas, director of the Restoration Institute’s Renewable Energy focus area, said the state-of-the-art testing facility, combined with South Carolina’s strengths that include outstanding port and large-scale shipbuilding facilities, local steel manufacturing and world-renowned research institutions, mean the state will play a central role in realizing the nation’s energy goals.

"The importance of this grant should not be understated," Rigas said. "Clemson, together with the industry that will grow around the testing facility, will drive wind energy research nationwide."

Clemson University President James F. Barker said this grant means the university can combine its strengths to catapult South Carolina to a leading role in the nation’s emerging and important wind power industry.

"This is a great example of how a research university like Clemson can be a catalyst for economic development," Barker said. "We have expertise in many fields energy, engineering, sustainability as well as a track record of successful collaboration between the university and our partners in industry and the public sector."