The South Carolina Institute for Energy Studies at Clemson University has begun studying the feasibility of harnessing wind power to generate electricity in the state, according to Nick Rigas, Institute director.
SC Launch!, a South Carolina Research Authority collaboration, gave the Institute a $15,000 grant for the South Carolina Wind for Schools demonstration project. SCRA works with demonstration projects and helps create new companies around new technologies, said Bill Mahoney, president.
One of the sectors in which the organization has been active is alternative energy, he said. The United States needs to develop “a variety of inexpensive, preferably non-carbon sources of energy.”
The wind power study plays into that.
“We view this project as a really good test of new technology in windmills,” as well as a change to study the economics of the technology, he said.
The one-year project will investigate the feasibility of using wind power to generate commercially viable wind power on Waties Island, an undeveloped and protected barrier island in Horry County, said Rigas.
Coastal Carolina University, which owns part of the island, is developing a marine research center there. Eventually, the study should determine whether it would be feasible for Coastal Carolina to use a wind turbine to supply at least some of its power.
A 167-foot-high mobile tower with equipment on it at three different levels will be erected the week of June 18, he said. Other such towers will be erected elsewhere along the coast in the near future.
Researchers will look at the wind speeds, wind directions, solar potential, temperature, barometric pressure and humidity, Rigas said.
“With this project, we want to assess the winds at that location” to determine if they are strong enough and consistent enough to power a wind turbine, he said.
Data, collected in real time and sent to Clemson, will be available to researchers and utility officials through the Internet, allowing them to create models of electricity production based on a wind source. It will help utilities determine the cost of generating electricity using wind as power.
Information from the study also will be made available to the public, showing them how much a clean energy source can offset carbon emissions, he said.
Clemson, the Georgia Institute of Technology and North Carolina State University recently hosted the Southeast Regional Offshore Wind Power Symposium in Charleston. The symposium is leading to more efforts to promote the development of coastal and offshore wind power in South Carolina.
The next phase of wind studies will include demonstration projects just offshore, Rigas said.
“South Carolina has tremendous offshore wind potential,” he said.
He said it makes sense to start studying wind power in the coastal area of the state.
“The coast has grown the fastest. The winds on the coast are more consistent and they’re more powerful offshore,” he said.
But the possibility of wind as an alternative power source doesn’t stop there.
“There is wind potential in the Upstate,” Rigas said. “It’s along the ridges between the foothills and the valleys.”
So far, no interest in allowing demonstration projects on the ridges has been voiced, he said. But he said he hopes to educate the public and government officials with the coastal studies. Since the towers are mobile and can be moved, he said he would like to conduct a demonstration project in the Upstate in another year or so.
Over time, Rigas predicts that “wind power will be part of the energy mix. It will not be dominant.”
“There’s pretty clear evidence that, economically and politically, the United States is starting to pick itself up and move if not to a non-petroleum economy at least to a reduced-petroleum economy,” he said. “We are hunting for those type of applications that pay for themselves. If the economics are there, most Americans will buy the new technologies.”
By Jenny Munro
9 June 2007
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