Editor’s note: Susan Sanford is the Executive Director of the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster, an industry-led nonprofit dedicated to accelerating the growth of the cleantech economy in the Research Triangle region. More information can be found at www.researchtrianglecleantech.org.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – April 22 is the 49th annual Earth Day, which means students will be bringing home a lot of pine cone bird feeders and sprouting lima beans this week. Our neighbors are out planting flowers, teachers are leading lessons on climate, and there are more Earth-themed hikes, festivals, and events this month than we could possibly attend. Earth Day celebrates the arrival of spring and the importance of our environment, and is a great way to get kids excited about nature.

Susan Sanford

Beyond middle school though, Earth Day and the environment can take a back seat to life. We are focused on going to work and back home to family and friends. We can easily become overwhelmed with keeping up with our own yard, much less worry about climate change, energy, and pollution.

The good news? More than 27,000 people in the Triangle go to work every day to address environmental challenges at the household and community level.

Cleantech as a force for the environment

Clean technology (“cleantech”) benefits the environment by reducing resource inputs – in other words, it’s the technology behind environmental sustainability. Cleantech often focuses on energy (generation, distribution, storage, efficiency) but also includes transportation, industry, agriculture, air, and water.

Over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from transportation and the production of electricity, but researchers and companies in our own backyard are developing the solutions to reduce these emissions, leading the world in smart grid and transportation technologies, as well as water management, manufacturing, and building efficiency.

Moving towards 100% renewables to reduce climate impact

The cleantech sector also encompasses energy generation, including renewable energy sources like wind, solar, nuclear, and biofuel. In North Carolina, renewables provide about 10% of our energy (primarily solar), and the enabling technologies to connect those clean-energy sources to the grid or directly to homes and businesses are being developed in the Triangle.

Our local governments are also leading the clean-energy transition by making ambitious commitments to renewable energy sources. Over 10 governments in North Carolina (including Apex, Carrboro, Durham City and County, Hillsborough, Orange County, and Wake County) have formally resolved to transition to 100% renewables in the next 10-30 years.

How will these communities reach 100% clean energy goals? What technologies will they rely on? How can they work with utilities and renewable energy developers to accelerate the transition?

At the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster, we recognize that transitioning to 100% renewables will require collaboration and partnerships. We offer resources to help North Carolina communities connect with each other and with cleantech experts to reach their energy goals.

That’s why we’re hosting a panel of municipalities and industry experts on May 10 to share the challenges and opportunities involved in reaching 100% renewables. Elected representatives and staff from the City of Charlotte, Wake County, and Town of Apex will join speakers from Duke Energy, Strata Solar, and ScottMadden to discuss how they plan to reach these goals. We invite everyone – local government, industry, academia, nonprofits – to join us for a candid conversation about moving North Carolina communities to a low-emission energy future.

Earth Day is every day in the cleantech industry

Cleantech tackles the biggest environmental problems of our era by reducing energy usage, protecting air quality, and providing clean water. Earth Day comes but once a year, but rest assured there are thousands of brilliant people in the Triangle working to protect the Earth and environment every day of the year.

If you’d like to meet these innovators and learn how communities are working to protect the environment, join us on May 10 for coffee and a discussion on Achieving 100% Renewable Energy in North Carolina: http://researchtrianglecleantech.org/smartseries.