An abandoned World War II-era warehouse in an impoverished part of South Carolina is now a $110 million engineering facility -- and the proving grounds for the next generation of wind turbines, Businessweek reports.
As companies such as General Electric and Vestas Wind Systems design bigger, more reliable turbines, they’ll bring their prototypes here to run them through a battery of tests to simulate some of the harshest weather conditions imaginable.
“The idea is to break them, so we know how and where these turbines and drivetrains fail over time,” says John Kelly of the Clemson University Restoration Institute, which houses the new testing facility.
The naval base where the new 82,000-square-foot Energy Innovation Center now sits was closed in 1995. In 2009, Clemson won a $45 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy; Clemson then raised an additional $53 million for the project. SCE&G, Duke Energy, and the SmartState Program also contributed.
The facility is centered around two giant test rigs (pictured) called dynamometers: hydraulic devices that can replicate the rotation and bending forces that a wind turbine places on a drivetrain, Businessweek explains. (The 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.)
Weighing hundreds of tons each, and reaching as high as four stories, the rigs can simulate years’ worth of conditions in just a few months. (Engineers call it HALT, for highly accelerated life testing.) The biggest rig can simulate the force experienced in a hurricane.
Wind turbine manufacturers will lease the testing rigs for months at a time. GE is expected to be the facility’s first industrial partner.