Clemson dedicates one-of-a-kind energy systems research and testing facility
NORTH CHARLESTON — The South Carolina Lowcountry’s primary provider of electricity, together with the nation’s largest utility, joined Clemson University Thursday to dedicate the world’s most-advanced energy systems testing and research center.
The world-class facility was named the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center during a dedication that marks the beginning of groundbreaking research, education and innovation at the Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI) campus. SCE&G supported the center with a $3.5 million gift.
The center houses the world’s most-advanced wind-turbine drivetrain testing facility capable of full-scale highly accelerated mechanical and electrical testing of advanced drivetrain systems for wind turbines. A drivetrain 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.
Duke Energy named the 15-megawatt hardware-in-the-loop grid simulator the Duke Energy eGRID — Electrical Grid Research Innovation and Development — center. The eGRID, housed in the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center, supports education, research and economic development to speed new electrical technologies to market.
Hardware-in-the-loop is when a device is connected to a system — in this case an electrical device connected to a simulated electrical grid — and the device performs under test as it would under actual conditions. The eGRID can simulate the electrical grid of any country in the world.
Duke Energy is contributing $5 million to help fund laboratory infrastructure and educational program development and fund a Smart Grid Technology Endowed Chair. Duke Energy employees also will provide the center with ongoing technical expertise and resources.
Duke Energy’s endowment was matched by the SmartState Program to establish two distinguished professorships. Together, these three positions will form a focused smart-grid technology research team that will lead to new innovations and help educate the workforce of the future.
Speaking to an international audience of more than 1,000 people, including elected representatives, U.S. Department of Energy officials and industry executives from around the world, Clemson University President James F. Barker said the facility places South Carolina at the forefront of energy systems testing and research.
“Clemson University is renowned for groundbreaking research, supercomputing, engineering and workforce development, but the Innovation Center and eGRID take the university to another level,” Barker said. “The fact two such prestigious companies have put their names on this building undoubtedly will help us attract additional industry partners.”
“We will always be grateful for their support and trust, as we are to the many public and private partners that helped the Clemson team make this incredible project a reality,” he said.
The versatility of the facilities will enable Clemson engineers to engage in an array of mechanical and electrical systems testing for a broad range of energy markets. Such a unique environment means Clemson students will experience an education that goes far beyond a traditional classroom environment.
Testing and research at the Innovation Center will encompass many facets of the electrical market to help transform the electrical infrastructure into a more distributed, resilient and efficient system. Focus areas include energy storage; solar energy; wind energy; traditional energy sources, such as natural gas and diesel systems; smart-grid and micro-grid technologies; fuel cells; aerospace systems; electric vehicle charging systems; grid security; and others.
The Innovation Center also will house engineers with two partner companies: Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) and FEV Inc. SRNL will conduct research into grid security and resilience. Germany-based FEV, a leading developer of advanced powertrain and vehicle system technologies whose North American headquarters are in Detroit, will establish a research and development center of excellence at CURI.
John Kelly, Clemson University vice president for economic development, also made two important personnel announcements.
Nikolaos Rigas, who helped lead the testing facility grant application, and the facility’s design and implementation, was named executive director of the Restoration Institute. Rigas previously was associate director of the campus.
Curtiss Fox, the former Clemson student who envisioned the groundbreaking grid simulator, was named director of operations for the eGRID center. During a graduate student internship at the Restoration Institute and then as a Ph.D. student, Fox developed his ideas to use the electricity generated by the drivetrain testing facility to create a laboratory that allows electrical equipment testing on a scale unavailable at any other facility.
Kelly said the Innovation campus’ capabilities, and the partnerships it will create, will help generate what lies at the project’s heart: ideas. From its onset, the testing facility’s core mission was to speed innovation to market. Such innovation is borne from collaboration. These projects are indicative of what creates a knowledge economy for the Charleston region, and the state. Both the drivetrain testing facility and the grid simulator are the largest and most-advanced technologies in the world, Kelly said.
“The grid simulator is the perfect example of what can happen when free thinking and creativity is allowed to flourish,” Kelly said. “In this case, we had a Clemson student who worked with senior engineers and researchers and ended up developing a project that could change the world. People like Nick Rigas and Curtiss Fox, and the many others who helped make the facility a reality, are the epitome of what this campus stands for — and why it is such a success.”
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman said, “Developing America’s vast renewable energy resources is an important part of the Energy Department’s ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy to pave the way to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future. The Clemson testing facility represents a critical investment to ensure America leads in this fast-growing global industry – helping to make sure the best, most efficient wind energy technologies are developed and manufactured in the United States.”
SCE&G Energy Innovation Center
In November 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Clemson University the largest grant in the university’s history to build and operate a facility to test next-generation wind-turbine drivetrain technology. The award represented an enormous economic development opportunity for the region. The 82,000-square-foot facility was designed to house not only the wind-turbine drivetrain testing facility, but also grid integration studies associated with the Duke Energy eGRID.
Additionally, two student laboratories were built to house future electrical-related research. Space in the Energy Innovation Center is designed for public-private partnerships to house Clemson University personnel and students with company partners. The Energy Innovation Center can test drivetrains on two test rigs: one up to 7.5 megawatts and the other up to 15 megawatts. Weighing more than a Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet filled with fuel, passengers and luggage, specifications for the facility’s 15-megawatt test rig are so large many of its components have never before been designed.
The $98 million testing facility was funded by a $45 million Energy Department grant and matched by $53 million of public and private funds. The grant’s objective is to accelerate development of new technology for the wind market to reduce the cost of energy. The facility’s mission is to provide high value, high quality and cost-competitive testing services to industry, and to establish long-term workforce development, research and education partnerships.
“SCE&G is pleased to be a sponsor and partner in this project,” said Kevin Marsh, chairman and chief executive officer of SCANA Corporation, the parent company of SCE&G. “The energy industry is a growing and changing industry. It is important for the private sector to work with public partners such as the U.S. Department of Energy and Clemson University to address the opportunities and challenges that face our industry. We look forward to the developments that will result from this collaborative research effort.”
Duke Energy eGRID
While building the nation’s electrical grid is considered one the greatest technological achievement of the 20th century, turning the grid into a digital communication and energy-efficient network could be one of the greatest advancements of the 21st century.
Central to updating and improving the efficiency and reliability of the aging electrical transmission infrastructure is developing technologies that can integrate seamlessly into the existing grid. A world-class grid simulation facility that mimics real-world conditions — without real-world risks to the existing grid — is needed to test and validate these innovations.
Clemson’s grid simulator is financed, in part, by a Department of Energy EERE grant with matching funds from the state of South Carolina and industry partners, including utility companies and certifying bodies, for a total project value of $10.1 million.
Clemson University’s grid simulator will serve as one of the cornerstones of the center of excellence in grid compatibility testing, smart-grid technology, modeling and certification.
The grid simulator is the brainchild of a Clemson University student — Curtiss Fox — who has earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering, and is now Dr. Fox, after receiving his doctorate from Clemson University.
Jim Rogers, chairman of the board for Duke Energy, said, “This is an exciting day for South Carolina and Duke Energy, and our industry. The Duke team looks forward to working side by side with Clemson students and researchers from across the world to help create jobs and deliver new grid technologies to our industry.”
First testing client: General Electric
Also this week, General Electric announced the company would be the first industry partner to use the Energy Innovation Center’s 7.5-megawatt test rig. GE Power and Wind will test its next-generation wind-turbine drivetrain technology beginning in spring 2014. The unit will be tested over a period of several months to investigate its robustness, reliability and efficiency.
Shell Lubricants sponsored a Nov. 20 technical workshop at the Innovation Center to explore the challenges and benefits of testing facilities and the potential value they bring to the market. More than 100 engineers from around the world attended the workshop.