North Carolina Smart Grid Webinar Series – Smart Grid and Economic Development

By Jonathan Susser | January 24, 2019

As North Carolina’s utilities modernize power generation and distribution, new growth opportunities will arise that spur economic development and improve quality of life. One way the smart grid creates new opportunities is by providing a competitive edge when recruiting businesses. Hardening existing infrastructure and deploying self-optimizing grid technologies, smart meters, energy storage, microgrids and renewable energy all work to create a more reliable and resilient power system, and business partnerships and utilities help turn these efforts into economic growth.

In our webinar Smart Grid and Economic Development, we heard two perspectives on how smart grid and related technologies are supporting North Carolina’s economy. Susan Sanford, Executive Director of the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster, discussed the role of clean technologies (cleantech) in our state, and Michael Burnette, Chief Operating Officer for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, highlighted the efforts of our network of electric co-ops.

Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster

The Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC) is a nonprofit started in 2012 by industry leaders in the utility, business, government and academic worlds. It works to advance the cleantech industry in the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina. As more communities and businesses declare sustainability goals and look to be powered by clean energy, this collaboration across sectors is essential.

For the RTCC, a benefit of the smart grid is its ability to help integrate cleantech. Cleantech is any product, service or technology that reduces energy consumption and increases profits for the providing organization. Examples include renewables, solar, energy storage, electric vehicles, clean water and more.

The cleantech industry has become a huge boon and competitive advantage for North Carolina. It is growing faster here than in other parts of the country, and it’s not only impacting major cities. According to one 2013 study, the cleantech industry was the only one that had new company locations or expansions in every county in the Research Triangle Region. In other words, it is driving jobs to rural communities as well, and as the grid continues to modernize, cleantech opportunities should only grow.

North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives

North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives serve approximately 2.5 million people in North Carolina, primarily in rural areas; however, they do more than provide electricity. A core aspect of their identity is to support and empower their members and communities through economic development and outreach. Often, co-op employees act as the economic development professionals in their areas.

As businesses set sustainability goals and consumers become increasingly aware of energy usage, North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives are working to build a brighter energy future in a multitude of ways: adding low carbon and alternative sources of generation, exploring technologies to make the grid more flexible and pursuing beneficial electrification, which transitions technologies to run on electricity and improves efficiency and cost-savings.

One ongoing effort is to reach rural parts of the state with a co-op fiber network. This high-speed broadband service will better connect businesses, bring jobs, and help integrate the latest innovations and technologies to improve resiliency and bring cost-saving strategies. These benefits, in turn, will support quality of life and the workforce: broadband technology will strengthen grid flexibility and efficiency while connecting underserved homes and businesses to create a newly educated workforce and career opportunities.

North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives are also making the state a leader in microgrids, such as through the systems recently deployed on Ocracoke Island and in Lillington. An important component of the smart grid, microgrids are independent electric systems that use local energy resources and control technologies to help power a defined area. They support grid reliability and resiliency, ease peak demand periods and act as a testing ground for advanced technologies that can benefit electric service and communities.

New revenue streams stem from innovation, and North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives are constantly working toward that goal. Other efforts that will help push the state forward include building a statewide electric vehicle charging network to support tourism and providing education grants with funding for innovative classroom projects at K-12 schools.

A modernized, dependable grid is becoming more and more of a necessity, and for North Carolina, it is a big advantage. Smart grid activities are helping the state remain globally competitive as a place to locate and operate a business, improving economic development and quality of life for our citizens, communities and organizations.

For additional information on smart grid topics, including webinar recordings, case studies and more, visit www.ncsmartgrid.org, and check out this case study about how the smart grid increases Duke Energy’s economic development opportunities.