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NREL and Clemson University Put Wind Turbine Drivetrains to the Test

August 11, 2015

Through a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA), two of our nation’s most advanced wind energy research and test facilities—the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Clemson University—have joined forces to help the wind energy industry improve wind turbine drivetrains and integrate turbines with the electric grid. The partners will share resources and capabilities in the operation and development of testing facilities to work toward improving turbine performance, as well as effectiveness in connecting to the grid. The CRADA also includes exchange of staff for training, research, and development.

"Our partnership with Clemson is an excellent example of how a university and a national laboratory can work together,” said Brian Smith, acting center director for the NWTC. “The collaborative efforts of these two research entities will complement one another for the technical advancement and large-scale deployment of wind and water power."

NREL, with support from the Wind Program in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, leads the way in developing custom facilities and capabilities to enable testing of full-scale integrated wind turbine drivetrain systems in accordance with the needs of the wind industry. NREL currently operates 2.5-megawatt (MW) and 5-MW dynamometers, and a controllable grid interface-grid simulator that can help engineers better understand how wind turbines will react to grid disturbances.

A large drive train on the Clemson University campus with a crane in front of it.

Clemson University’s 15-MW wind turbine drivetrain testing facility in South Carolina. Photo courtesy of Clemson University

Supported by a $45.6 million DOE investment that is cost-matched with more than $70 million in funds, Clemson University currently operates a drivetrain testing facility with 7.5-MW and 15-MW dynamometers, as well as a 20-megavolt ampere grid emulator and the Duke Energy eGrid, which enables mechanical and electrical testing of wind turbines and other multimegawatt devices bound for the electrical grid. These projects spurred the development of the $21 million Zucker Family Graduate Education Center, which will house Clemson’s graduate programs and is located adjacent to the test facilities.

"Clemson University’s mission of promoting public-private partnerships to develop new technologies for the energy industry and educate the workforce of the future at the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center and NREL’s activities at the NWTC share a lot of common ground," said Dr. Nikolaos Rigas, executive director, Clemson University Restoration Institute. "This agreement will provide the framework for further collaboration and technical exchanges that benefit both organizations and brings a stronger team together to tackle broader challenges related to energy."

NREL offers a variety of technology partnership agreements to help industry partners gain access to its research expertise in wind technology. Additional information on partnering with NREL’s National Wind Technology Center can be found here.

For more information on Clemson University Restoration Institute and the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center visit

—Wayne Hicks