Charlotte, NC Leads in Energy, Research and Tech Talent

Discover how Charlotte’s energy sector is a model for the nation, with leading-edge research, unique public/private partnerships and a technologically advanced talent base delivering safe, reliable and responsible energy for the region and beyond.

By
Michael Solender
On Friday, September 2, 2016 - 15:50
Charlotte, NC

There’s no questioning the lion-size role Charlotte USA’s energy sector plays in the region’s expansive economic growth and development. Charlotte USA has earned the moniker of the country’s New Energy Capital in part by housing more than 260 companies with direct energy sector ties. The region employs nearly 28,000 skilled technology workers involved in a wide range of energy sector services, including solar panel manufacturing, nuclear engineering, and renewable R & D. A national hub for nuclear power engineering and technology, Charlotte USA employs more than 12,000 engineers, providing a deep well of expertise and support to all manner of energy-related industrial and advanced manufacturing activities.

Industry leader Duke Energy’s commanding headquarters presence helps create a rising energy sector tide, lifting all boats in the region. The largest electric power holding company in the country, Duke Energy is a Fortune 500 powerhouse and strong regional asset in attracting and retaining diverse businesses looking to take advantage of its power capabilities.

Eleven percent of the nation’s nuclear power supply comes from the Carolinas from a dozen nuclear reactors; six potential units are under application. Top national and international nuclear engineering firms have significant operations in the region including Areva NP, babcock & Wilcox, CB&I, Toshiba America Energy Systems Corp., Siemens, URS and Mitsubishi Nuclear Energy Systems.

Powering Up New Opportunity

Charlotte USA’s climate for energy innovation is attracting both new business and expansion within the region. North Carolina holds the distinction of being the first southern state to legislate renewable energy production and implementation measures by 2021. The region offers affordable industrial sites and a strong electricity, water, sewer, telecommunications and transportation infrastructure, says Stuart Heishman, vice president of economic development & business recruitment for Duke Energy.

"More companies are looking for diversity in their power generation mix," he says. "This is another advantage we offer, with a balance including renewables that can help companies achieve sustainability goals and reduce their carbon footprint. Companies also find a very pro-business climate in the Carolinas.”

Blue Sphere Corp., a leading project integrator and producer of clean biomass energy, chose Charlotte USA for its new headquarters in 2015. The company’s 5.2 megawatt biogas generation facility converts food waste to power, eliminating waste that would normally be disposed in landfills. Blue Sphere’s Charlotte facility is an integral component of the company’s multi-year agreement to sell power to Duke Energy.

The vast array of educational and research resources available to the nuclear energy sector make Charlotte USA particularly vibrant in terms of support for energy innovation and technological advances. Nowhere in the region is this more greatly realized than at EPIC, the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center at UNC Charlotte. The state-of-the-art facility provides advanced applied research, education, and collaborative opportunities for students, faculty and industrial partners. With a keen focus on supplying highly trained engineers and increasing capacity and support for energy-related research, EPIC, together with the Lee College of Engineering, develops energy-related curriculum in high-demand areas to serve the region’s growing need for skilled talent. The center has more than 75 faculty members working in energy-related disciplines and offers project management, collaborative teamwork, risk analysis and leadership skills as part of their specific workforce development training.

“EPIC is successful because of the strong partnership we have with our affiliate companies and with the community,” says Dr. Johan Enslin, EPIC director. “Workforce development, applied research and economic development are key deliverables of our work here. Our focus is on relevant, meaningful work for the community that addresses real industry challenges.”

One example: EPIC's work to increase the amount of renewable sources in the region’s energy mix. The center has special research programs dedicated to the integration of solar, wind, hydro and biomass technologies. Moreover, EPIC’s partnership with industry allows students to take advantage of internship and co-op positions with local companies based upon skill level and position need.

“Our students see the focus and direct link with their studies and industry needs,” Enslin says. “We experienced a 23 percent increase in the number of undergraduate students with an energy concentration over last year.”