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Two Facilities, One Goal: Advancing America's Wind Industry

November 27, 2013 - 12:00am

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Two state-of-the-art wind turbine drivetrain test facilities are now open for business: the Clemson University Wind Turbine Drivetrain Testing Facility in South Carolina and a National Renewable Energy Laboratory dynamometer at the National Wind Technology Center in Colorado. The two test facilities will be used to evaluate in a controlled environment the mechanical systems that convert the aerodynamic forces of wind turbine blades into electricity from a generator. Funded in part by the Energy Department (DOE) through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the new facilities will help accelerate the development and deployment of next-generation technologies for both offshore and land-based wind energy systems. FORMER MILITARY BASE NOW HOME TO ADVANCED WIND FACILITY Located on the site of a former Navy base with easy access to both rail and deepwater transport, the Clemson facility in North Charleston is ideal for testing the large, commercial scale turbines being developed by manufacturers for offshore wind farms. This facility, which opened last week, is equipped with 7.5-megawatt (MW) and 15-MW dynamometers that will enable the wind industry and testing agencies to verify the performance and reliability of drivetrain prototypes and commercial machines by simulating operating field conditions in a laboratory environment. Verifying a wind system's performance before it is commercially deployed reduces risk for both the manufacturer and system operator, and facilities like Clemson's can simulate as much as 20 years' worth of wear and tear on drivetrains in a few months. In addition to testing the performance of the drivetrains, Clemson is using the facility's electrical infrastructure to build a 15-MW hardware-in-the-loop grid simulator. The grid simulator will mimic real-world circumstances, such as wide-area power disruptions, frequency fluctuations, voltage drops, cascading accidents, and cyber or physical attacks, to determine the effects of wind turbines on utility grids and grids on wind turbines. GAINING INSIGHT THROUGH EXPERTISE DOE's  second new test facility at NRELÃ's National Wind Technology Center near Boulder, which also opened last week, offers industry the capability to perform accelerated tests on wind turbine drivetrains with capacity ratings of up to 5-MW. In addition, industry partners that use the facility gain access to on-site engineers with more than three decades of engineering experience. NWTC now has two dynamometers that can be connected either directly to the grid or to a controllable grid interface (CGI). The dynamometer and CGI work in tandem to provide engineers with a better understanding of how wind turbines react to grid disturbances. With these additions, the NWTC is one of the only facilities in the world that can use these capabilities alongside operating multi-megawatt wind turbines in the field at the NWTC and energy storage devices undergoing testing there. The two facilities are part of DOE's overall strategy to increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind, reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and create a more sustainable future for generations to come.

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