A milestone at Clemson University’s wind turbine testing facility, as machinery takes shape

  • Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:55 a.m., Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:03 a.m.
Construction workers completed installation Tuesday of the massive “load application unit” on what will be the world’s largest wind turbine testing unit at the Clemson University Restoration Institute on the former Navy base in North Charleston. Buy this photo

Clemson University’s $98 million wind turbine drivetrain testing facility marked a milestone Tuesday as the enormous machinery that will test the world’s largest wind turbines began to take shape.

The scale of the equipment, which will simulate real-world wear-and-tear on truck-size turbines meant for offshore use, is striking.

Picture an enormous gear-like ring about three stories tall. The “load application unit” installed Tuesday will be part of a testing rig capable of simulating operating conditions on wind turbines that can produce 15 megawatts of power, about five times what large land-based wind turbines produce.

The facility is expected to open this year on the former Navy base in North Charleston.

“It’s all starting to come together now,” said Project Manager Jim Tuten.

This summer the smaller of two rigs will be up and running, and will go through testing. The 7.5-megawatt rig, though the smaller one at the facility, is among the largest now in use anywhere.

“That process will begin in June or July,” said Peter Hull, a Clemson spokesman. “It’s like a test flight.”

The larger rig and the rest of the facility also will be finished this year, which is behind schedule but within the project budget, Tuten said.

The idea behind the testing facility is that manufacturers from around the world will pay Clemson’s Restoration Institute to test their gear indoors in North Charleston before going to the great expense of putting the units in offshore wind farms.

“We can (simulate) five years’ worth of storms in a month,” Tuten said. “There’s no place at this scale.”

The testing facility is not connected to any specific plan to create South Carolina offshore wind farms, but wind-power advocate Chris Carnevale, with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the Clemson facility could help.

“There is a good connection between having the testing facility here and making offshore wind development more likely,” he said. “The Clemson testing facility is a logical anchor for the wind industry hub to continue to develop in the Charleston area.”

And if the area is a wind energy hub, that could mean cost savings associated with creating offshore wind farms nearby, he said.

On an offshore wind farm platform, turbines would be stressed by the forces applied to the giant blades that spin to create electricity. At the testing facility the turbines will have no blades attached, but instead will be attached to hydraulic testing equipment that can apply force in different ways.

To handle the weight and force of such testing, the largest turbines will be bolted to a concrete base 100 feet long and 15 feet deep. Installing that base was an all-night project, completed this year, involving 223 truckloads of concrete.

The testing facility is located in an 82,264-square-foot former Navy warehouse adjacent to rail and dock facilities. The turbines that will be tested there are generally too large to move by road.

The facility is being created using a $45 million U.S. Department of Energy grant, with a mix of additional public and private funds covering the rest of the project.

It is part of a growing Clemson presence on the former base that includes the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where research is conducted on the Civil War submarine H.L. Hunley, and the planned Zucker Family Graduate Education Center.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.

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