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.”