Advanced Energy Through the Decades: Celebrating 40 Years

By Jonathan Susser | April 1, 2020

Advanced Energy is excited to celebrate its 40th anniversary this April! Over the past four decades, we have had the opportunity to help our partners navigate the ever-changing energy industry by providing research, training, testing, consulting and program services.

Since 1980, we have expanded our operations, added major research and testing laboratories, and won numerous grants to study energy-related issues, but we’ve never strayed from our vision: to ensure that energy is clean, affordable, reliable, efficient and safe for all people.

For our 40th anniversary, we want to share examples of projects that have made a significant, positive and lasting impact on the energy industry in North Carolina and the nation as a whole.

Advanced Energy’s Beginnings

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, North Carolina, like many other states, was experiencing large increases in electricity consumption. With a rise in air conditioning and a rapidly growing population, electric utilities were keeping up by building new generating plants, but this was resulting in yearly rate hikes.

Following a 1979 rate case hearing, Dr. Robert Koger — then chairman of the North Carolina Utilities Commission — wondered whether the growth in demand could be slowed without hindering North Carolina’s economic vitality. He was serving on the Advisory Council of the Electric Power Research Institute, and although energy efficiency was being discussed, little was happening at the state level. He proposed to his fellow commissioners that the Utilities Commission set a hearing on the possibility of establishing a statewide nonprofit entity focused on promoting energy efficiency and renewable generation. Its goal would be to alleviate, to the degree possible, the yearly increases in electric rates that North Carolinians were experiencing.

A majority of Dr. Koger’s fellow commissioners were on board, and the hearing was set for January of 1980. Most individuals and entities testified in favor of the idea, and the proposal received substantial support. As a result, the Utilities Commission founded Advanced Energy, originally named the North Carolina Alternative Energy Corporation, to investigate and implement technologies for distributed generation, load management and energy efficiency.

1980s

Advanced Energy’s early years, under the direction of Dr. Jon Veigel, saw the organization focus on five program areas: agriculture, community, industry, residential/commercial and utility.

Our community program worked with local governments, nonprofits, schools, small businesses and other entities to promote energy improvements. For example, we created a theatrical traveling energy troupe that used song and dance to educate students about energy efficiency. We also established a group of related projects that helped community organizations design energy management programs, select and install energy measures, and secure financing.

As an early precursor to some of our current solar initiatives, we collaborated with Carolina Power and Light Company to evaluate the performance of a photovoltaic array constructed at a test site. The goal was to understand the ease with which this technology could be integrated into utility distribution systems.

In the late 1980s, we started a multiyear effort with Southern Produce Distributors, Carolina Power and Light, the N.C. Energy Division and the Electric Power Research Institute to introduce an innovative produce-cooling system known as the “iceberg.” It was developed in an 800,000-gallon underground tank that icemakers would fill with millions of pounds of ice, and in the summer, the stored “coldness” was used to produce cold air to chill the vegetables. A key strength of the system was that it could run year-round, which spread out electricity demand over time and prevented utilities from facing significant load during harvest.

Our agricultural program also partnered with poultry farms to promote energy efficient lighting opportunities and a new ventilation strategy that benefited both farmers and utilities.

Our first foray into electric transportation began in the 1980s, three decades before the technology truly reemerged in the U.S. In 1989, we tested an electric van to assess its potential application in commercial fleets, and a couple of years later, we began evaluating a Pontiac Fiero that had been converted to run on batteries.

Toward the end of the decade, we brought together representatives from 21 organizations for the Residential Energy Forum. The three-day event defined the characteristics of a high-performance home, and it produced the residential mantra we still use today: that every home should be healthy, safe, comfortable, durable, energy efficient and environmentally responsible.

In 1988, Dr. Veigel departed Advanced Energy to join Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Dr. Koger stepped down from the Utilities Commission to become president of the organization he helped found.

1990s

We expanded our capabilities in several ways in the 1990s. For example, we better aligned our efforts with our North Carolina utility members and started taking our work beyond the state’s borders. We also relocated to our current site on NC State University’s Centennial Campus, and we changed our name from the Alternative Energy Corporation to Advanced Energy.

In 1991, we joined with the NC State University College of Textiles to launch the Industrial Electrotechnology Laboratory (IEL). The IEL opened doors to many offerings, giving us a new avenue to provide technical assistance, technology demonstrations, workshops and publications. It primarily acted as a problem-solving center focused on promoting electrotechnologies and motors, and industry members could try out equipment and receive in-plant testing.

In the residential sector, we made significant progress supporting market transformation. We tested standards developed during the Residential Energy Forum in a multi-home pilot and then detailed the guidelines in a field guide for builders. In a separate effort, we worked with utilities and housing representatives to develop energy efficiency recommendations for manufactured housing, and our Duct School led two-week trainings for heating and air conditioning technicians on saving energy and improving homeowner comfort through duct diagnostics and repair.

In 1997, our motor lab achieved compliance from the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program through the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It became the first motor efficiency testing lab in the world with this recognition. One year later, we began our first-of-its-kind motor repair quality assurance program, Proven Efficiency Verification.

2000s

Spurred in large part by the devastation of Hurricane Floyd in 1999, we launched the affordable housing guarantee program SystemVision in 2001. We have been fortunate to collaborate with the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency and a network of nonprofit builders, raters and volunteers. To date, SystemVision has helped construct more than 5,500 high-performance, energy efficient, affordable homes in North Carolina.

2001 was also the year we partnered with the Masco Corporation and experts in the building science field to help design the Environments for Living new home guarantee program. This effort continued to build on the work we carried out in prior decades to promote building science and energy efficient construction practices in the field.

In 2002, we kicked off our Plug-in Hybrid Electric School Bus program. Over the next decade, we conducted feasibility studies, designed and built buses with industry partners, and collaborated with school districts across the country to evaluate the technology’s performance, operating costs, emissions, fuel economy and more.

A significant milestone in our renewable energy offerings was the formation of NC GreenPower, which was founded in 2003 at the request of the Utilities Commission. NC GreenPower is a nonprofit subsidiary with a mission to expand public knowledge and acceptance of cleaner energy technologies to all North Carolinians through local, community-based initiatives. It was the result of two years of discussions and stakeholder meetings, and was the first independent, statewide, multi-utility green pricing program in the U.S.

In the mid-2000s, we received a federal research grant to study closed crawl spaces. Our research found that these spaces can significantly improve moisture control and energy efficiency, and we worked with the NC Building Code Council to make them easier to install through the North Carolina building code. Other states have made similar changes to their codes to support closed crawl spaces, and they are now also the standard for LEED homes.

In 2005 and 2009, we managed research projects in Phoenix, Arizona, and Houston, Texas, respectively, that compared homes built to ENERGY STAR® and other high-performance standards with homes built to code. The 2005 research led to early process improvements to the ENERGY STAR program, while the 2009 work revealed that participation in high-performance home programs may influence and benefit construction practices for all new homes.

2010s

In the early 2010s, we worked with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and dozens of experts to develop the Weatherization and Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades to support the home energy retrofit industry. The guidelines put in place Standard Work Specifications that are still in use today by the DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program.

With electric vehicles reentering the U.S. market at the beginning of the decade, we worked with key stakeholders to launch the North Carolina Plug-in Electric Vehicle Taskforce, later renamed Plug-in NC. Plug-in NC is a statewide collaborative program that strives to make North Carolina a leader in electric transportation through outreach, education and resource development. Today, it has more than 150 member organizations and individual ambassadors promoting electric vehicles throughout the state.

In 2015, NC GreenPower launched its Solar Schools pilot, offering grants for the installation of small photovoltaic arrays at schools. In 2019, the pilot was approved by the Utilities Commission as a full-scale program and was rebranded as Solar+ Schools. Thanks to donor contributions, NC GreenPower has been able to help fund solar installations at 32 K-12 schools in 27 counties to date, bringing renewable energy and STEM education to 26,000 students.

Our broader solar efforts also expanded greatly in the 2010s. We substantially grew our solar team and were selected by Duke Energy to lead its PV Interconnection Commissioning program in its North Carolina and South Carolina territories. We also played a key role in facilitating the process for the review and update of the North Carolina interconnection standards, which define many of the requirements that regulated utilities and independent power producers must meet in order for solar, biowaste and other forms of electrical generation to be integrated into the electric grid.

In the commercial and industrial sectors, we began focusing on strategic energy management and energy management systems (EnMS) via ISO 50001, 50001 Ready and Superior Energy Performance (SEP) 50001. We became one of the few companies in the Southeast able to train facility teams on how to reach certification. We are recognized as a DOE 50001 EnMS Qualified Instructor and can lead ISO/SEP training events for industrial sites or cohorts with access to all DOE ISO/SEP presentations and instructional materials.

In 2018, we became recognized by the American National Standards Institute as a Certification Body. The achievement signifies that we meet the requirements outlined in ISO/IEC 17065 for organizations that certify products, processes and services. We can now certify electric motors and small electric motors for efficiency as designated by the DOE.

That same year, after 30 years guiding Advanced Energy, Dr. Koger announced his retirement. Bob Goodson, who had most recently worked with North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, joined as Advanced Energy’s new president.

We are truly thankful for all the opportunities we have had over the past 40 years to assist our clients and support the energy industry. We look forward to the next decades with enthusiasm, knowing that we have the tools and expertise to continue to provide valuable services and guidance.