Blackouts remind us how much we rely on power in our daily lives. With a flick of the switch, we have come to expect lights will come on. There will be heat to keep us warm. There will be electricity to charge our devices.

Clemson has opened the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center in North Charleston. This $110 million lab is focused on upgrading and transforming the nation’s aging, electric power grid and accelerating development of new technology for the wind market.

Nick Rigas, Ph.D., executive director for the Clemson University Restoration Institute in Charleston, serves as lead scientist for the center. His facility houses the world’s largest and most-advanced wind-turbine drivetrain testing facility, as well as the Duke Energy eGRID, a Clemson-designed and developed technology on the forefront of much-needed upgrades to the nation’s electrical grid.

“The energy challenges we face require big thinking,” says Rigas. “It’s our job to support that kind of creativity by testing ideas, improving on them and getting them into the market quickly to diversify our country’s energy resources.

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. The center can test drivetrains on two test rigs: one up to 7.5 megawatts and the other up to 15 megawatts.

The 15-megawatt test rig, which weighs more than a Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet filled with fuel, passengers and luggage, is so large many of its components have never before been designed.

The Energy Innovation Center is also home to the Duke Energy eGRID — Electrical Grid Research Innovation and Development — a Clemson-designed and developed technology on the forefront of much-needed upgrades to the nation’s electrical grid.

While building the nation’s electrical grid is considered one of the greatest technological achievements of the 20th century, turning the grid into a digitally communicating, energy-efficient and reliable network could be one of the greatest advancements of the 21st century.

Central to that mission is developing technologies that can integrate seamlessly into the existing grid. The Duke Energy eGRID mimics real-world conditions — without real-world risks to the existing grid — to test and validate these innovations.

Duke Energy’s gift includes an endowment for a Smart Grid Technology Endowed Chair. South Carolina’s SmartState Program matched Duke Energy’s endowment to create two additional endowed professorships to form a research team that will lead to new smart-grid innovations and help educate the workforce of the future.

The versatility of the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center will enable Clemson engineers and scientists to engage in an array of mechanical and electrical systems testing to support a broad range of energy markets: energy storage, smart-grid and micro-grid technologies, fuel cells, grid security, natural gas and diesel systems, wind and solar energy.

For Clemson students, this unique facility means they are experiencing an education that goes far beyond any traditional learning environment.

Meeting energy needs wisely – Head On