Research Triangle Region, N.C. - Smart grid member companies from the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster asked U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC-02) Friday to promote a comprehensive energy approach that supports domestic production of both renewable and fossil fuel resources to help the nation achieve energy independence.
Ellmers, whose district includes many Research Triangle Region counties, requested a briefing on the region’s smart grid cluster following her September launch of a bipartisan Grid Innovation Caucus in the House of Representatives with U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA-09).
Cluster members discussed issues, drivers and obstacles in smart grid growth and asked Ellmers for help with policy issues that affect technology development and deployment. That includes reliable tax credits for energy investments, authorization of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline, and support for natural gas expansion and export.
Among the issues facing the industry are managing state and federal guidelines for financing grid improvements, which are often in conflict; grid security, both cyber security and physical security; and grid resilience, said Gary Rackliffe, vice president of smart grid development for ABB North America.
“When you look at the benefits of the smart gird, one of the key benefits is economic value,” Rackliffe said. “If we show there is a benefit, how do we get money for investment and how do we use it as an economic driver to attract industry, make us more efficient and become smarter with our use of energy resources.”
Ellmers pledged support for the industry and said she would help educate her district constituents and colleagues in Washington about its value.
“I think it’s going to mean incredible growth for North Carolina, especially District 2,” Ellmers said. “I’m not sure when everyone is talking about energy production and bringing down the cost of energy that there’s a real understanding of how smart grid technology plays into that. We have to make sure that the funding is there for it.”
A smart grid is a modernized electrical grid that uses information and communications technology to connect suppliers and consumers in an automated way, improving efficiency, reliability, cost and customer service. The Research Triangle Region is home to nearly 100 smart grid companies and includes firms in every aspect of the smart grid value chain – hardware, software and data analytics. It is known globally as a smart grid hot spot on the strength of its companies and its supportive assets.
“One of the things that creates uncertainty in our industry is the lack of some sort of comprehensive overview for energy – whether it’s helping expand natural gas, looking at self-healing grids or looking at renewables – everything is done in pieces and, therefore, it creates winners and losers,” said Nelle Hotchkiss, senior vice president of corporate relations for N.C. Association of Electric Cooperatives. “As the new Congress organizes next year, having conversations in this space for a more comprehensive view really does lend itself to much better outcomes.”
John Camilleri, chief technology officer for microgrid maker Green Energy Corp. said military and commercial use of microgrids is on the rise. Utilities now must grapple with the challenges of managing the loss of load and revenues and the interconnection agreements as a growing number of customers produce some of their own energy.
Meanwhile, “what’s stifling small company growth in the microgrid space is regulatory uncertainty because there is no vision and plan," Camilleri said. "Congress can kill a lot of innovation by dragging its feet on this.”
Jim Creevy, director of government relations for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, said support for energy efficiency should be part of the tax code and that the federal government should lead smart grid deployment by example.
“The federal government owns buildings and owns portions of the electric grid,” Creezy said. “To the degree that we can change policies so that the federal government makes additional investments in the technologies we develop here in the Research Triangle, they will demonstrate to Congress and taxpayers alike that these technologies save money and improve efficiency. That can really drive deployment of these technologies."
About the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster
The Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC) is an initiative of business, government, academic and nonprofit leaders working to accelerate the region’s cleantech economy through collaboration and partnerships that promote innovation and sector growth. The Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP) formed and manages the RTCC with funding from industry board members ABB Inc., Cisco Systems, Duke Energy, Field2Base Inc., Itron Inc., Piedmont Natural Gas, Power Analytics Corp., PowerSecure International, RTI International, SAS, Schneider Electric, Sensus and Siemens and its members. RTRP leads economic development for the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina. For more information, visit www.researchtrianglecleantech.org.