Research Triangle Team Represents Region at DistribuTECH

Indeed, the Research Triangle Region is an epicenter for cleantech corporate locations and echoes the conference’s theme of technology convergence.  And the market-shaping technologies announced at DistribuTECH mean dollars and jobs landing in our region. 

Christa Wagner Vinson

Clean technology is increasingly ranking high on the agenda of America’s utilities, and it was a strong theme last week in San Antonio, Texas at DistribuTECH, the electric power industry’s largest trade show and conference.

About 10,000 people attend DistribuTECH each year.  However, few of those attendees are economic developers.  But the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, Morrisville Chamber of Commerce, and the Research Triangle Regional Partnership made their second trip to the show this year because more than two dozen of our region’s largest companies were there. 

Research Triangle Cleantech ClusterFor the past several years, our organizations have formed partnerships to support and grow the cleantech industry in the region through a number of channels, most notably, the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC).  

DistribuTECH is a technical conference.  So, to begin, a short primer on what’s happening behind the light switch.  The grid is moving from analog to digital, from static to automated, from siloed to integrated, from uni-directional to distributed. Many call this the smart grid. These changes will require new technology – and the support structure behind innovation, advanced manufacturing, and new investments that gets technology deployed. 

And, while we may not be engineers, we sat up straighter in our chairs when we heard from Philip Mezey, CEO of smart metering giant Itron (who has a large presence in Raleigh), that the delivery of these new technologies will require some component parts we’re very familiar with in the Research Triangle Region: collaboration and innovation.   

“This show demonstrates each year that there’s more and more connectivity in the market,” noted Kevin O’Hara, who represents Siemens on the RTCC board of directors.  “Smart grid growth will require integrating solutions from different players to deliver functionality – and the region’s Cleantech Cluster represents a microcosm of that.”

Also at DistribuTECH, RTCC board member Sensus demonstrated clean technologies, including automation control and demand response, and told us they’ll be connecting those technologies from the show floor to software and solutions located at their interoperability lab in Research Triangle Park.

And Schneider Electric, a leading vendor for advanced demand management solutions, told us they see DistribuTECH as an important chance to iterate with industry peers on the projects and solutions that will shape their roadmap.

We see follow-up meetings in that iteration process as just a short car ride away in our region.  As another RTCC member company put it, he couldn’t walk ten feet at the show without bumping into a familiar face from home. 

Partly, that’s to do with the fact that we can make a claim few other regions in the nation or world could: over 25 companies with a headquarters or significant operations in the Research Triangle were at DistribuTECH this year.  The list includes:  Sensus, Cisco, Itron, Elster, Eaton, Siemens, SAS, Schneider Electric, ABB, MacKay Communications, Green Energy Corp., Tantalus, OSIsoft, Power Analytics, Duke Energy, Quanta Technology, Red Hat, Gridiant, GridBridge, GE, Nexant, Accenture, IBM, Black & Veatch, Freescale Semiconductor, and Plotwatt, plus a handful of consultants that support the industry with offices in the region.

Indeed, the Research Triangle Region is an epicenter for cleantech corporate locations and echoes the conference’s theme of technology convergence.  And the market-shaping technologies announced at DistribuTECH mean dollars and jobs landing in our region.

But we went for more than regional promotion and economic development.  We’re also interested in what problems our community of experts has the technical ability to solve – for our community.  It was more than clear to us that smart grids are about bringing solutions to consumers: safely, reliably, efficiently, sustainably.  Many of our regional companies have deployed smart grid components and solutions in our state as well as around the world.  These companies bring this global perspective to their work every day in the Research Triangle. 

To us, what’s really exciting is, communities that follow a Triple Helix model where industry, government, andTriple Helixresearch and academia are accustomed to working together will have a head start on understanding what next generation smart grid technology will look like.  A common understanding of technology means increasing the shared benefits we can get out of its solutions.

Attending DistribuTECH once again confirmed for us that the world is dealing with an ever-growing scarcity of natural resources and energy while simultaneously experiencing a dramatic increase in demand. Solutions are being created at the convergence of technology, software, hardware, and policy.  It is at this convergence that the Research Triangle will thrive.  Developing the smart energy and water solutions that will maximize our resources, meet the growing global demand, and provide economic and environmental sustainability is where the Research Triangle is positioning itself. This is the next “big thing” for the Triangle. 

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