Clemson Dedicates $110 Million Energy Center

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- A new $110 million energy research center dedicated by Clemson University will not only help develop a new generation of wind energy but will strengthen the grid by which electric power is distributed, U.S. energy and university officials said.

U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman and Clemson President James Barker, joined by other dignitaries, stood in front of the world's largest wind turbine test rig as they helped dedicate the center in a renovated building at the old Charleston Naval Base.

During the ceremony, colored lights bathed the four-story, 400-ton unit capable of testing drivetrains for wind turbines big enough to produce 15 megawatts, or enough energy to power 6,000 homes. The center also features a smaller turbine drivetrain testing rig as well as a 15-megawatt electric grid test facility.

The center was financed in part by a $45 million federal stimulus grant from the Department of Energy that the university won in a competitive award process. It is located at Clemson's Restoration Institute, which also includes the lab where the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley is being preserved.

During the ceremony it was announced that the grid testing facility, also known as the eGRID, or the Electrical Grid Research, Development and Innovation Center, will bear the name of Duke Energy. The name SCANA, the parent company of South Carolina Electric and Gas, is on the innovation center building itself. The first turbine design that will be tested has been manufactured by General Electric's Power and Wind Division.

"This center is going to help transform the power sector for the 21st Century," said Duke Energy Chairman James Rogers. He said the innovations from the grid research center will mean a more robust electrical grid that is better protected from computer and physical attacks and will mean faster recovery following disasters such as hurricanes.

Barker noted that the $45 million was the largest grant in Clemson history.

Poneman said wind turbine testing is crucial to a wind industry that already employs 80,000 people nationwide.

"Forty-three percent of all new energy-generating assets last year were wind and that was just onshore," he said. "This facility is going to be very important to assure that wind power can continue to play the pivotal role that the president has asked of us."

John Kelly, the executive director of the Restoration Institute, said Thursday would be the last time most people will see the inside of the innovation center. He said it will be maintained as three secure areas once proprietary turbine and electrical designs are tested by various companies at the center.

He said 150 companies and agencies were involved in creating the Energy Innovation Center.