Carolinas' brainpower shines: researchers generate ideas to sustainably produce energy.


From the ridge tops of North Carolina's high country to the coastal tides of South Carolina to both states' capital regions, researchers are discovering new ways to produce energy from sustainable sources and working on improving the capacity and efficiency of the nation's aging electrical grid. At least five universities in the Carolinas are leading their own energy research centers or managing initiatives in conjunction with other academic or industry collaborators. Whether the work of these scientists is sponsored by their universities, power companies or government grants, much of it will one day impact the way power is generated, distributed and tolerated by the environment in the Carolinas and beyond.

Companies are opening their checkbooks to support the products, services and systems resulting from these discoveries. According to an August 2014 report by the Paris-based International Energy Agency, global investments in new clean-energy capacity will total $1.61 trillion between now and 2020. Specifically, funding for electricity generation from wind, solar and biomass will average about $230 billion a year globally. By the end of this decade, the report states, renewables will account for about 26 percent of the world's electricity, up from 22 percent today.

In the Carolinas, the research emphasis is on wind, solar, fuel cells and smart-grid technology. Here's a look at some key projects and initiatives.

At Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., five small turbines spin atop Beech Mountain as part of the North Carolina Wind Application Center. The turbines, which include models currently on the market as well as pre-production models, are used by researchers to test product durability, verify power curves, and study noise emissions and the effect on birds. The facility draws small wind-power manufacturers, utility representatives, students and the general public. The center also reaches out to local landowners to tout the benefits of generating their own power with residential-scale wind turbines.

In North Charleston, S.C., a Clemson University facility is also doing notable wind research. The $108 million SCE&G Energy Innovation Center, named after its principal industry sponsor, is housed in the Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI), located in an 82,000-square-foot former naval warehouse. Inside looms the world's most advanced wind turbine drive-train testing facility, capable of full-scale, highly accelerated...

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