Friday, December 2, 2011

Smart Grid – A Triple-Helix Growth Model in the Research Triangle

I work for ABB and we were recently invited to host a dinner for the International Cleantech Network (ICN) in Raleigh, North Carolina when the ICN held its four-day partnership building program in the Research Triangle. The ICN is a global organization dedicated to advancing new technologies for a healthy environment and for economic development. The event was sponsored by the Research Triangle CleanTech Cluster (RTCC) and was organized by the Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP) and NC State University’s (NCSU’s) Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development. Since ABB sponsored the dinner, I had the chance to say a few words about why we are supporting the RTCC and why ABB is the first company to commit to participating in the RTCC as a founding board member. I saved my notes from the dinner and want to share in this week’s blog why I think that the Research Triangle is the smart grid hotspot and the five reasons why we are supporting RTCC.

Reason 1 – RTCC is focused on smart grids, renewable energy, and electric vehicles
The first reason is the alignment of our growth initiatives with the focus areas of the RTCC economic development model. RTCC is promoting economic growth through smart grid, renewable energy, and electrification of transportation. ABB has identified several strategic growth areas, or industry segment initiatives, to drive our company’s growth. Four of these industry segment initiatives are smart grid, wind energy, solar energy, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure which directly align with the RTCC.

Reason 2 – ABB is investing in the Research Triangle
The second reason is the investment that ABB is making in the Research Triangle and our business interests in making the region a great place to work and live. We recently relocated our North American headquarters to Cary, NC in the Research Triangle and have operations on the NCSU Centennial Campus that include the North American headquarters for our Power Systems and Power Products divisions and our US Corporate Research Center. We think that the attractiveness of the Research Triangle and a healthy smart grid business climate will help to attract employees to the region. The Research Triangle area frequently scores high in “best place to live and work” ratings. BusinessWeek recently published the results of its “America’s best city” ratings and identified Raleigh as a leading tech hub for smart grid development. The Raleigh Chamber and Wake County Economic Development office worked with Delta Airlines earlier this year to spotlight the region and smart grid activities in Delta’s Sky Magazine.

The other three reasons are linked to the triple-helix growth model and its basis for the RTCC. The three elements of the triple helix model are: support from the government, involvement from local academia, and engagement from local industry. It is the strong position of each element in the Research Triangle that qualified RTCC to join the ICN, one of only two clusters in the US.

Reason 3 – Support from local government and economic development organizations
The local government, economic development organizations, and advocates for smart grid, renewables, and electric vehicles are involved. The Office of Senator Kay Hagan is participating and the Senior Policy Advisor from the Governor's Office hosted a meeting on stimulating job growth in the renewables/smart grid/electric vehicles sector. The North Carolina Department of Commerce is engaged in the regional smart grid economic growth activities and has sponsored events. The City of Raleigh, the Raleigh Chamber, Wake County Economic Development, and the Research Triangle Regional Partnership are also collaborating to promote economic growth for the region in the RTCC focus areas. Raleigh Economic Development has established a Smart Grid Executive Roundtable and put together a smart grid brochure when Raleigh hosted the National Solar Conference earlier this year in May. We have also worked with the NC Sustainable Energy Association to support proposed NC legislation for tax credits related to smart grid job creation and investment and their events to promote regional smart grid economic development.

Reason 4 – Local universities are involved
The local universities have also embraced the concept of the RTCC. I mentioned above that the NCSU’s Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development was a co-sponsor of the ICN’s visit to Raleigh. ABB is investing in future employees through its funding of scholarships and a professorship in the electrical engineering department at NCSU. At Duke University, Marcy Lowe and the team at the Center on Globalization, Governance, & Competitiveness (CGGC) released a new study, "Smart Grid: Core Firms in the Research Triangle Region, NC." The team found 59 firms directly engaged in developing or manufacturing smart grid technologies or services in the Research Triangle. Twenty of these firms have corporate headquarters in the area. This research was funded by NCSU’s Institute for Emerging Issues faculty fellows program.

We also just opened our Smart Grid Center of Excellence on the NCSU Centennial Campus that includes a new demonstration center. Nearby are Advanced Energy which is focused on energy efficiency applied research, the NC Solar Center which is advancing renewable energy and electric transportation, the FREEDM Center which is funded by the National Science Foundation and is performing R&D for smart grid and sustainable energy solutions, and the Duke Energy Envision Center which explains how smart grid technologies benefit customers.

Reason 5 – Smart grid companies are clustered in the Research Triangle
The final reason is the cluster of smart grid companies and activity in the Research Triangle area that the CGGC study indentified. For example, two of the major advanced metering infrastructure companies, Elster and Sensus, have corporate headquarters in Raleigh and a third, Itron, has a local operation. We believe that this proximity helps to foster collaboration and interoperability. The local investor-owned utilities in the area, Duke Energy and Progress Energy, are merging and are making smart grid investments – each company has a $200 million ARRA smart grid investment grant from DOE.

Another benefit is that the cluster is helping to pull in industry events. In addition to the National Solar Conference, the Plug-In electric vehicle conference was held in Raleigh this year, the first time outside of California. Next year, Greentech Media’s Networked Grid and IEC’s Grid Com Forum will be held in the Research Triangle. As the CGGC study illustrated, the region is a hotspot for smart grid technology. The Research Triangle clearly meets the ICN criteria, is leveraging the triple helix growth model, and has the momentum to continue to grow the RTCC.

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