Wake County and the Research Triangle Region at the Core of Global Energy Innovation

The Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE), a national Clean Energy Information Hub for local chambers of commerce, recently featured Wake County and the Research Triangle Region as the number one and number eight Chambers-in-Action stories for 2014. The stories showcase our area as being at the center of the convergence of energy innovation and defense technology and a global leader for smart grid innovation.

The articles are a result of ongoing collaborations between Wake County Economic Development (WCED), the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC) and CICE to bring key leaders in cleantech innovation and defense technology to the table. In 2014, the region hosted several roundtables and events with local businesses, economic developers, university researchers, elected officials and military experts including two retired generals - Ret. Air Force Gen. Ronald Keys and Ret. U.S. Marine Corps LtGen. Richard C. Zilmer. The roundtable discussions focused on the military’s role in energy innovation and what this means for North Carolina’s economy while shedding light on the intersections between energy, innovation, national security and local economic development.

During the roundtables, LtGen. Zilmer spoke about his firsthand knowledge as a senior commander in Iraq, and the critical need for more renewable energy resources and increased energy efficiency. He added that the Research Triangle Region is a global leader in energy innovation and that it’s this innovation that can save lives. Gen. Keys pointed out that the military is the single largest user of energy in the U.S. and that there is a major need for continued innovation to increase energy efficiency in the defense sector.

Here’s a link to Triangle Business Journal articlewith further detail about the events. The TBJ notes that often, military bases have energy efficiency and environmental impact requirements mandated by the federal government, but sometimes lack the resources to implement them. To fill this gap, local businesses developing clean technology play a key role.

The Research Triangle’s status as a global leader in cleantech innovation makes it a natural solution to the military’s growing demand. As additional support, some of the region’s many accolades include being one of only 15 members in the exclusiveInternational Cleantech Network, and one of only two locations in the U.S.; headquarters to the second most cleantech companies in the nation; and rankings including Raleigh being named the #2 Top City for Smart Grid Software Development. Also, Wake County and the Research Triangle region’s role as a global leader in smart grid innovation. The number eight story of the year provided a brief history on the focus of smart grid as a key economic development target for our community.

WCED’s cleantech industry expert, Michael Haley, summarizes why Wake County and the Research Triangle Region are global hubs for energy innovation:

  • Smart Grid Industry Leadership. As detailed in WCED’s previous blog post, Wake County is home to a diverse group of companies in this space that operate across the smart grid value chain including vertically integrated multinationals to entrepreneurs. Visit here and here for research supporting the strength and diversity of smart grid companies in our region. 
  • Unmatched University and Community College Assets.The Research Triangle Region is the only place in the U.S. that is home to three tier one research universities within 30 miles of each other. Our region is also home to nine other colleges and one of the best community college systems in the country. It’s these assets that are educating the next generation of engineers, designers and technologists that will feed smart grid innovation.
  • Talent. It’s always the people that drive innovation - students, faculty and staff at universities; collaborative, cross-functional teams within companies; and multi-firm partnerships. Our region has the talent power to solve the world’s complex energy problems. 

These resources haven’t gone unnoticed. In January 2014, President Obama visited Raleigh to announce the creation of the Next Generation Power Electronics Institute, a $140 million research consortium made up of companies and universities that will develop the future of energy efficient solutions, which will be led by and headquartered at NC State University’s Centennial Campus.

Collectively, these stories once again illustrate that Wake County and the Research Triangle region are critical to continued energy and smart grid innovation and the convergence of energy innovation and defense technologies. Our community has the companies, talent and resources to lead this innovation.

To learn more about how our region is the leading the way for a more energy efficient future, check out WCED’s smart grid microsite and RTCC’s website, and follow @TriSmartGrid and@TriCleanTech on Twitter.


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