Blown away by Clemson center

  • Posted: Saturday, November 23, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Clemson’s newly dedicated turbine drivetrain testing facility looks different to different people.

To almost anyone, it looks huge — stunningly huge. Imagine being in a room six stories tall.

Some are struck by its innovation. It allows companies to test drivetrains before going to the significant expense of installing them in offshore wind farms.

Some see it as a sophisticated educational opportunity for students from Clemson and beyond.

Environmentalists see it contributing to a greener planet where wind energy will reduce the need for fossil fuels.

Then there are the jobs it will produce — and potentially the spinoff industries that will set up shop in the area to take advantage of the new facility, and will bring additional jobs. Clemson President Jim Barker envisions a drivetrain production facility on the North Charleston campus one day.

The testing facility, called the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center, is the featured component of Clemson’s Energy Systems Innovation Campus at the former Navy Base. It is an extraordinary project that has put the area on the universal wind energy map. And it’s just beginning.

During a visit to The Post and Courier Thursday, Mr. Barker said this is the right time and the right place for the center. North Charleston provided property with necessary water access. Through ICAR (Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Research), Clemson had already established its ability to handle such ambitious projects.

And the university’s work with the Hunley gave it additional credibility in the Lowcountry. Further, he said, the Charleston area is an inviting place for new businesses.

Mr. Barker called the project a premier example of a private/public partnership that works. Clemson was chosen to receive $45 million in federal funds, which the state matched. Private industry, including SCE&G and Duke Power, invested in it. The Zucker family will construct a graduate education center on the campus. And Clemson helped with the funding, too. The final pricetag is well over $100 million.

And the intent of the facility is to sell its services and ultimately be self-sufficient.

What’s not to like?

As a land grant university, Clemson focuses on the teaching of practical subjects like agriculture and engineering — in addition to the classics.

The Energy Systems Innovation Campus is a stellar example of that mission.

Mr. Barker told us he considers this among the most important things he helped achieve as president of Clemson. It will certainly be a key part of his legacy when he steps down as president in January.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, speaking at the testing facility’s dedication, said he was most impressed by what he saw.

He said that more than 80,000 Americans are now employed in the wind energy field, and 40 percent of new alternative power comes from the wind.

Wind energy “is not some fantasy about our future,” Mr. Poneman said.

It certainly is real for the Lowcountry, and the state of South Carolina, where Clemson’s SCE&G Energy Innovation Center, its economic promise, educational opportunities, ecological potential and engineering achievements, are in a position to do great things.

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