US energy secretary Steven Chu says the money will come from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, and will strengthen US wind energy technology by supporting the testing of next-generation wind turbine designs.

The Clemson Restoration Institute and its partners will match federal funds with US$53m to build and operate the wind turbine drive train testing facility at the institute’s research campus on the Charleston Naval Complex, a former navy base in North Charleston.

“Wind power holds tremendous potential to help create new jobs and reduce carbon pollution,” says Secretary Chu. "We are at the beginning of a new Industrial Revolution when it comes to clean energy, and projects like these will help us get there faster.”

The Large Wind Turbine Drivetrain Testing facility will enable the United States to expand development and testing of large-scale wind turbine drive-train systems domestically. Wind turbine sizes have increased with each new generation of turbines, and have outgrown the capacity of existing US drivetrain testing facilities.

The new wind turbine testing capability will ultimately improve US competitiveness in wind energy technology, lower energy costs for consumers, and maintain rapid growth in the deployment of wind energy systems.

The award is the largest single grant ever received in the university’s history, and represents an enormous economic development opportunity for the region. The university’s partners include the Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority, South Carolina Department of Commerce, State of South Carolina, South Carolina Public Railways, South Carolina State Ports Authority and private partners RENK AG, Tony Bakker and James Meadors.

The wind turbine testing facility will be housed in Building 69, a former navy warehouse that is adjacent to existing rail and ship-handling infrastructure. It will be capable of full-scale highly accelerated testing of advanced drive train systems for wind turbines in the 5 MW to 15 MW range, with a 30% overload capacity.

Planning and construction of 82,264 ft2 facility will begin in the first quarter of next year, with a targeted operational date in late 2012. The wind turbine test facility will operate as a non-profit organisation with a business model, while providing ongoing testing to wind turbine manufacturers.

The Department of Energy (DoE) estimates that South Carolina could gain 10,000 to 20,000 new jobs related to the wind power industry during the next 20 years. In the short term, the Restoration Institute estimates the initiative will create 113 temporary jobs to construct the facility and 21 full-time jobs, as well as 568 indirect jobs.

“As the wind energy market emerges along the East Coast and turbines continue to grow in size and weight, South Carolina is strategically positioned to serve as an industrial hub for this evolving industry,” says John Kelly of the Clemson University Restoration Institute.

“This is a great example of how a research university like Clemson can be a catalyst for economic development,” adds Clemson university president James Barker. The grant means the university can combine its strengths to catapult South Carolina to a leading role in the nation’s emerging and important wind power industry.

A drive train takes energy generated by a wind turbine’s blades and increases the rotational speed to drive the electrical generator, similar to the transmission in a car.