Chairman, Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC)
Those of us in the cleantech industry are part of the next big thing to hit the Triangle economy. We’re not a new industry, exactly, but by changing the term from merely energy to “cleantech,” we broaden the meaning to include everyone who touches power generation, green energy, water systems, data analytics, research, and development, and the connected list goes on.
Don’t confuse cleantech with conservation groups such as the Sierra Club. They’re important, but they’re not cleantech. We’re businesses with payroll and profits to make. The Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC) was formed four years ago when virtually no one knew cleantech existed in the region. Today, the Research Triangle region of North Carolina is recognized as a global cleantech center of innovation.
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Our cleantech story began more than 60 years ago, when Westinghouse Electric Corp. relocated its electricity metering division from New Jersey to Raleigh. In the decades that followed, our region attracted energy industry leaders that continue operations today – companies like ABB, Schneider Electric, Sensus, and Siemens.
While these energy companies were building regional operations, data analytics and infrastructure leaders were being created and locating here as well – companies like Cisco and SAS. Fast forward to today, and we see a unique convergence of hardware and software underpinning a remarkable cluster of more than 350 companies – working across the entire value chain of smart energy, smart water, and smart transportation.
The universities that put the points on the Triangle have assets such as the national Science Foundation-funded FREEDM Systems Center at N.C. State; the Department of Energy-funded Power America Institute; Duke University’s Energy Initiative; and UNC’s Institute for the Environment.
Our region has been recognized nationally for entrepreneurship. CNBC named Raleigh as one of the top 20 places to start a business, with cleantech one of the key industries attracting startup interest and venture funding. Since 2002, there have been 39 cleantech patents awarded to individuals and organizations from the region. And capital access is growing. Between 2013 and 2015, we saw 25 venture capital deals completed in the region for a total of $211 million of investment.
A few of these innovative, entrepreneurial companies include OpenDataSoft, who is advising the White House on their data transition plan; Stay Online, a power cord manufacturer in Granville County that is reshoring manufacturing jobs to North Carolina; KoolBridge Solar, which allows solar to be integrated into homes more efficiently; and WindLift, which has developed a foundation-less, wind turbine, energy-generation technology. Another disruptive company is likely being birthed locally at this moment.
As you can see, there’s more going on here than energy, so we call it cleantech. By keeping the definition loose, we keep it real. Companies and organizations left out of an energy cluster fit perfectly in the cleantech industry.
The Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC) is an initiative of business, government, academic and nonprofit leaders focused on accelerating the growth of the Research Triangle Region’s cleantech economy. For more information visit www.researchtrianglecleantech.org.