Charlotte, NC's Energy Services Becoming Top Industry

On Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - 18:28

In many regions, the idea of an “energy economy” has become so hackneyed that the word “green” is slapped on just about anything – even absent meaningful innovation or impact.

Charlotte USA is not one of those regions.

The energy economy in and around Charlotte is thriving, and the communities that are boasting success have more than passionate anecdotes to make their case. The numbers tell the story.

The Charlotte region is home to more than 235 energy-related businesses, from utilities and nuclear engineering to alternative energy and energy storage, that employ more than 26,000 people.

The experts are on notice. Site Selection magazine, the nationally recognized economic development publication, ranked North Carolina among the nation’s top five states for corporate facility expansions in alternative energy.

The industry’s tremendous economic impact is supported by world-class energy research facilities and a growing pool of highly educated scientists and engineers.

“I think we have some pretty enlightened people here,” says Mitchell Pulwer, vice president and general manager of Concord-based Celgard. “You have some universities that are very active in this particular area.”

Charlotte-based Piedmont Natural Gas, a Fortune 1000 energy services company, distributes natural gas to 1 million residential, commercial and industrial utility customers in a three-state region. That includes 62,000 customers served by municipalities that are wholesale customers.

Piedmont subsidiaries are involved in a number of energy-related ventures including unregulated retail natural gas marketing, interstate natural gas storage and intrastate natural gas transportation. The company employs about 1,800 people.

Charlotte is also home to the research and development facilities for the independent nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute.

One of the pillars of Charlotte’s energy sector is the burgeoning alternative energy industry, and the region enjoys a diverse portfolio of leading players.

Celgard produces lithium-ion battery separator, a critical component in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, for makers of lithium-ion battery-powered devices such as laptop computers, cell phones and electric cars.

The company received a $49 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2010 that will fund a new manufacturing facility in Concord and expand its Charlotte facility, creating 289 additional jobs. The national spotlight focused on Charlotte twice when President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu each toured the Celgard campus.

“It’s become very clear that Celgard is one of the big players in the energy storage industry in the entire world, and we’re situated right here in Charlotte,” Pulwer says.

The litany of alternative energy successes in Charlotte is long. Fortune 500 Company Duke Energy is investing $50 million to build between 100 and 400 mini-solar power generation plants throughout North Carolina over a two-year period.

Siemens Energy announced in March 2010 that it will add a $130 million expansion to its Charlotte turbine and generator manufacturing facility. The expansion will create as many as 650 jobs in the region.

Solar-module manufacturer Sencera has announced plans to build a $37 million production facility capable of manufacturing panels with 35 megawatts of solar energy capacity each year.

Six new nuclear reactors are in the planning stages, and major industry players including Shaw Group, AREVA and Westinghouse have ramped up their presence in the area. 

The URS Corporation opened its URS Nuclear Center in Lancaster County, S. C. to serve as a headquarters for commercial nuclear energy engineering and construction.

And the list goes on.

“There’s still a lot of wood to chop, but I think the Charlotte area has all the makings of being the energy capital of the United States,” Pulwer says. “And there are a number of people other than me who are working on that kind of initiative.”