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Torture testing wind turbines at an abandoned naval base

Posting in Energy
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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.)

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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.

The testing facility comes online as the U.S. wind industry is growing faster than it ever has. According to the Energy Department, wind energy last year became the No. 1 source of new U.S. electricity generation capacity for the first time ever, representing 43 percent of all new electric additions and accounting for $25 billion in U.S. investment... Still, wind accounts for only about 3.5 percent of all electricity generated in the U.S.

[Clemson University media release via Businessweek]

Images: Clemson University

— By on November 25, 2013, 9:40 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure