By Harriet McLeod
NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - South Carolina's Clemson University on Thursday cut the ribbon on a $108 million wind-turbine research facility that experts say could spur more U.S. wind power development in the southeastern United States.
Clemson's Energy Innovation Center, located in an 82,000-square-foot former Navy warehouse, will house the world's most advanced testing rigs for wind turbine drivetrains. The facility was built with $45 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy and more than $50 million in state and private funds.
"This is going to be the go-to facility for global turbine manufacturers to test their newest turbines," said Brian O'Hara, president of the Southeastern Coastal Wind Coalition, based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Industry advisers for the center include General Electric, Siemens, Vestas, Bosch Rexroth, Mitsubishi, Samsung and Duke Energy, said Nicholas Rigas, senior scientist and director of the center.
The only large-scale wind project in the U.S. Southeast is a wind farm run by the Tennessee Valley Authority, O'Hara said.
The nation's electrical grid, built last century, has traditionally depended on large-scale nuclear, hydro and coal-fired plants to provide electricity.
The U.S. wind energy industry is still in its infancy compared to Europe and Asia, but according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, it produced more than 10 percent of the electricity in nine states last year, up from five states in 2011.
California is set to nearly double its wind and solar power generation over the next seven years as utility companies try to meet the state's requirement to source 33 percent of energy from renewables by 2020, regulators said.
The Southeast does not have as much wind as Midwestern and Western states. But the East Coast has promising offshore wind resources and shallower water at sea than other U.S. coasts, making offshore wind turbines easier and cheaper to build, Rigas said.
Deepwater Wind, a privately held wind power developer, is racing to build the first U.S. offshore wind farm off Rhode Island ahead of Massachusetts' large, long-delayed large Cape Wind project that would place 100 or more turbines in Nantucket Sound.
Small commercial or demonstration offshore wind projects are also being developed in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.
The center in South Carolina will also house a 15-megawatt electrical grid simulator allowing manufacturers to test any electrical device from charging systems for electric cars to wind and solar devices.
(The paragraph 9 of this story has been corrected by removing sentence stating that offshore wind turbines are more common on the East Coast )
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Bob Burgdorfer)