In November 2009, the US Department of Energy (DOE) awarded a $45 million grant to back the Clemson University Restoration Institute's proposal to invest $98 million in a wind turbine drive train test facility for 5-15MW machines. The remaining $53 million investment comes from non-wind industry players, including two private citizens, who put up $500,000 and $25,000.
"It's a public facility open to all customers, without alignment to any turbine manufacturer," says Peter Hull, spokesman for Clemson University.
Cener's role is as adviser on the technical advisory board, together with the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The board includes turbine manufacturers including Vestas, Gamesa, Siemens, Nordex, Repower, Suzlon and GE Energy.
"Our job is to validate the test facility's design," explains Pablo Ayesa, one of the two Cener technicians on the 12-member board. The other is Gurutz Urzelai manager of Cener's Laboratorio de Ensayo de Aerogeneradores.
Both will draw on Lea's experience of building and validating its own large facility. Even so, the dimensions of the Clemson site are a challenge. The 15MW test rig will bear weights of up to 300 tonnes. "That's more than a fully loaded Boeing 787 aircraft," points out Hull.
Reflecting the scale of the equipment involved, the facility will occupy a former navy storage building of 7,643 square metres on the edge of Charleston Harbour.
For the first five years of operation, the only shareholders will be the university and DOE. Until then, the main private financer, German construction and engineering firm Renk AG, will act as non-shareholding partner, though benefitting from contracts to build and supply the new centre.