Green energy gets a boost with Clemson University project


Flooding at high tide has made Charleston one of the first South Carolina cities to directly feel the pain of climate change, so it’s fitting that a new green-energy research project is launching in the midst of the most vulnerable areas.

Clemson University researchers based in North Charleston recently received $1.24 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a new way to test a key piece of equipment on offshore wind turbines. The goal is to enhance their reliability, making them more cost-effective and attractive to build.

More wind power would make the world less reliant on fossil fuels that have been linked to climate change and sea-level rise. The rising water has contributed to more frequent flooding during high tide in Charleston and other coastal cities.

The test bed at the wind-turbine drivetrain testing facility. (Courtesy: Clemson)

A team of researchers is doing its part to temper the effects of climate change in the Dominion Energy Innovation Center, a $110-million Clemson facility that opened six years ago at the former naval base in North Charleston.

J. Curtiss Fox, the director of research facilities at the center, said it’s crucial to make offshore wind turbines as reliable as possible. They are located in windy, blustery environments, often far from land and difficult enough to reach that many come equipped with helicopter landing pads.

“To go out there and change a $5 part becomes a very expensive endeavor,” said Fox, the principal investigator on the grant funding the new research. “There’s very little margin for error or your operating costs go up dramatically.”

The new research project could provide a boost to a clean-energy source that already has some significant momentum. The global offshore wind market benefited from rapid technology improvements and grew nearly 30 percent per year between 2010 and 2018, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.