Like much of the U.S., North Carolina has ambitious strategies to battle climate change through clean energy initiatives. According to the North Carolina Clean Energy Plan, the state has set goals to “reduce electric power greenhouse gas emissions by 70% below 2005 levels by 2030 and attain carbon neutrality by 2050.”
The state unveiled the plan in 2019 and will focus on establishing a “21st-century regulatory model” to help make clean energy affordable, reliable, and equitable. In addition to reducing emissions, the plan has also laid out these two goals:
- “Foster long-term energy affordability and price stability for North Carolina’s residents and businesses by modernizing regulatory and planning processes.
- Accelerate clean energy innovation, development, and deployment to create economic opportunities for both rural and urban areas of the state.”
“North Carolina has built an impressive record on clean energy, but to continue that leadership, the strategies laid out in this plan must inform the legislative and policy changes the state adopts,” the plan says. “The rapid pace of economic, environmental, and technological change has created an opportunity for North Carolina to pursue a modern, 21st-century electricity system.”
Photo Courtesy epic.charlotte.edu
Part of that effort will involve having universities aid in developing innovative clean energy solutions. One such initiative was announced in May when the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Energy Production & Infrastructure Center (EPIC) was named as the lead agency for a $1 million National Science Foundation (NSF) development grant to promote a clean energy economy in the Carolinas.
EPIC is partnering on the project with the North Carolina Department of Commerce, South Carolina Research Authority, E4 Carolinas, and other universities in the Carolinas, the Charlotte Business Journal reported. The partnership was among more than 40 groups nationwide that received $1 million grants from the first round of the NSF’s Regional Innovation Engines program.
According to the NSF, the program was authorized in the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. It aims to boost technology innovation by increasing the “level of commercial investment in research and development (R&D) activities across distinct geographic regions, particularly regions that have not fully participated in the technology boom of the past few decades.”
Photo Courtesy epic.charlotte.edu
In the Carolinas, Charlotte is considered a key hub for this kind of innovation because it’s the largest city in the two states and a major financial center located right on the state line dividing North and South Carolina.
According to an NSF grant abstract, the region is “the most representative of the nation’s emerging CE [clean energy] economy” because it already has carbon-free power production and capabilities to invent, design, build, and manufacture clean energy technologies.
“The Charlotte metropolitan area is the glue that ties together a two-state region teeming with renewable energy resources, especially offshore wind,” EPIC director Mike Mazzola told the Charlotte Business Journal. “The innovation flowing from North and South Carolina industry and research enterprises, such as our world-class universities, will allow ‘made in the Carolinas’ to support increased social mobility and generate more direct financial investment into our region.”
According to NSF, the $1 million grants are one type (Type-1) of the NSF Engines program awards, laying “the groundwork for establishing a new NSF Engine in their region for a given topic area.” Type-2 provide up to $160 million for up to 10 years, and the first round of this funding is expected in the fall. Other universities participating in the UNC Charlotte partnership include Clemson University (in South Carolina) and the North Carolina universities East Carolina, Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, North Carolina A&T, and North Carolina State.
EPIC is located on the UNC Charlotte campus and was formed through private and public funding. Its energy curriculum teaches students project management, collaborative teamwork, risk analysis, and leadership skills.
The NSF said the EPIC grant will focus on clean energy resource technologies. These technologies include “land-based and offshore wind, solar, clean hydrogen, marine energy, and the electric-energy delivery and storage systems that support their integration with the grid.”