South Carolina embraces wind energy with turbine research center

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. Thu Nov 21, 2013 5:30pm EST

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. Nov 21 (Reuters) - South Carolina's Clemson University on Thursday cut the ribbon on an $108 million wind-turbine research facility that experts say could spur more U.S. wind power development in the southeastern United States.

Clemson's Energy Innovation Center, located in an 82,000-square-foot former Navy warehouse, will house the world's most advanced testing rigs for wind turbine drive trains. The facility was built with $45 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy and more than $50 million in state and private funds.

"This is going to be the go-to facility for global turbine manufacturers to test their newest turbines," said Brian O'Hara, president of the Southeastern Coastal Wind Coalition, based in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Industry advisers for the center include General Electric , Siemens, Vestas, Bosch Rexroth, Mitsubishi, Samsung and Duke Energy, said Nicholas Rigas, senior scientist and director of the center.

The only large-scale wind project in the U.S. Southeast is a wind farm run by the Tennessee Valley Authority, O'Hara said.

The nation's electrical grid, built last century, has traditionally depended on large-scale nuclear, hydro and coal-fired plants to provide electricity.

The U.S. wind energy industry is still in its infancy compared to Europe and Asia, but according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, it produced more than 10 percent of the electricity in nine states last year, up from five states in 2011.

California is set to nearly double its wind and solar power generation over the next seven years as utility companies try to meet the state's requirement to source 33 percent of energy from renewables by 2020, regulators said.

The East Coast has less wind generation on land than Midwestern and western states. Offshore wind turbines are more common there.

The East Coast has shallower water at sea than other U.S. coasts, making offshore wind turbines easier and cheaper to build, Rigas said.

The center in South Carolina will also house a 15 megawatt electrical grid simulator allowing manufacturers to test any electrical device from charging systems for electric cars to wind and solar devices. (Editing by Kevin Gray and Bob Burgdorfer)

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