Construction Today Article Features Choate and Clemson Wind Turbine Project

May 25, 2012

Seeking answers to the energy questions in the United States takes some creative thinking, and Clemson University is engaged in an ambitious effort to help devise solutions. In October 2010, the university broke ground on what will be the world’s most advanced wind turbine drivetrain testing facility when completed.

Located in North Charleston, S.C., at the university’s Restoration Institute campus, the facility will allow for full-scale advanced testing of drivetrain systems, full nacelles and simulation of blade forces. It will include two test beds — one at 7.5 megawatts and one at 15 megawatts — with dynamic non-torque loading. The facility will have the capability for full-scale highly accelerated testing of advanced drivetrain systems for wind turbines in the five- to 15-megawatt range with a 30 percent overload capacity. It also will be capable of 50- or 60-hertz testing, meaning it will be able to test for any unit, regardless of location.

“We are designing the facility as we go, a facility that will house equipment that has never been built before, especially on such a large scale,” says Jim Tuten, Clemson project manager. “This is essentially a large research project, on top of being a construction project. It is a challenging project that includes an extensive retrofit in an area with high seismic, high wind and high flood characteristics. The project faces many mitigating circumstances, and we must complete it in a short time period due to the grants.”

A $98 million testing facility, the project was funded by a $45 million U.S. Department of Energy grant and matched by $53 million of public and private funds. It is scheduled to be complete by the beginning of 2013.
Key Contributors

In June 2011, Clemson announced it had finalized the main contracts for the wind turbine drivetrain testing facility’s design and construction. Choate Construction Co. is providing construction management services while AEC Engineering is providing architectural and engineering design for the project.

Located at the site of what was an 82,264-square-foot former Navy warehouse, the project’s founding partners include Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority, the South Carolina Department of Commerce, the state of South Carolina, South Carolina Public Railways, South Carolina State Ports Authority, and several private partners: Renk Labeco Test Systems, Tony Bakker and James Meadors.

Construction of the facility involves renovation and new construction. The first part of the work began in the spring of 2010 with site cleanup and interior work of the building. As initial design work commenced, stored material and the racking were removed from the building, and asbestos-containing material and lead paint were remediated. Older buildings on the site were also demolished.

Currently, work is proceeding on the foundation for the 7.5-megawatt test rig, as well as building the foundations for the general building itself. Soon, the project will move forward with erection of structural steel. The rest of the project will proceed in phases, as design is being delivered as the work moves forward.
Unique Lynchpin

For Clemson, building the wind turbine drivetrain testing facility is part of an effort to create a research and innovation campus in South Carolina. The idea is for the Restoration Institute’s campus to become a center for energy systems testing. The campus already includes a graduate engineering center and the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, and the addition of the drivetrain testing facility and a proposed 15-megawatt hardware-in-the-loop Grid Simulator will make Clemson a key part of energy systems development.

“Clemson is focused on a new way of bringing education and economic development together as part of our mission,” Tuten says. “This effort is about bringing needed workforce development and education to the students and industries of the area. In Charleston, we are looking to center that effort around energy systems, and the project is a linchpin of our plan to build that programming.”

For Choate, bidding on the project meant a chance to showcase its capability in wind-related construction projects. The company works in an array of markets, including research and development, manufacturing, data centers and biomedical research. One of its signature projects is the 22,127-square-foot Windshear Inc. rolling road wind tunnel in Concord, N.C. It is a one-of-a-kind facility in North America, used by NASCAR and other auto racing brands to simulate on-track racing conditions at speeds up to 180 mph.

“We view ourselves as a young, aggressive company, and we’re not afraid to tackle unusual, unique, outside-of-the-box projects,” says John Dudas, Choate project executive. “We like the challenge of working on highly technical and planning-intensive projects that have not been done before or that not everyone can do.”

Keeping communication open has relied on all of the modern methods of communication one would expect. Choate, Clemson and the rest of the team utilize extensive email, FTP protocols, webinars and BIM to exchange ideas and identify issues. When a new perspective is needed, none of the partners has been afraid to bring in additional talent, be it a subcontractor, evaluator or university expert.

As the project moves ahead, keeping information flowing will remain critical. The facility is being designed around equipment that also is being designed. The phased approach to the project will help facilitate the process, but it is important that all parties continue to think ahead and communicate so they don’t box themselves in as the project is refined.

All of this must be done with a capped budget and while keeping the schedule moving forward. The end-result will be worth it, however, and the most interesting work on the project is yet to come.

“We will have a testing facility that will advance the state of wind turbine technology on a global basis on both the mechanical and electrical side,” Tuten says. “We think South Carolina is in an ideal position to be at the center of the offshore wind industry in this country, and this facility will be at its core and attract other industries to grow around it.”


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