Editor’s note: Susan Sanford, Executive Director of the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster, an initiative of business, government, academic and nonprofit leaders focused on accelerating the growth of the Research Triangle Region’s cleantech economy.

RALEIGH — The Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC) recently hosted the first-ever Clean Tech Innovation Awards at the organization’s annual meeting of government, academia and industry professionals. Seven companies and two industry leaders were acknowledged as award-winners with more than 200 professionals in attendance.

Keynote speaker, Rushad Nanavatty, a principal for Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), provided remarks during a fireside chat hosted by Coleen Northeim, Senior Director of Sustainability and Resource Management for RTI International. The dialogue focused on what makes the Research Triangle region a global leader in cleantech innovation.

Susan Sanford speaking at the RTCC Awards ceremony last week.

Nanavatty described this region’s talent pool as “hyper educated – more educated, in some ways, than the Bay area and other tech hubs,” Nanavatty told the Raleigh audience of NC cleantech industry professionals.

“You are not creating social media apps,”  “You are creating solutions with real, social and planetary impact.”

RTCC Awards

North Carolina cleantech innovations have national recognition and provide solutions to energy and environmental challenges around the world. Just last week, GridBridge, a company spun out from research conducted at NC State University’s FREEDM Systems Center, announced its grid technology will be used for a $10.9m project to integrate distributed energy resources in the UK.

And these solutions are increasingly applied in communities, cities, and workplaces across North Carolina.

To acknowledge the talented professionals dedicated to improve and lead North Carolina’s cleantech industry, Nicole Raimundo, the CIO of Cary was presented with the 2019 Cleantech Champion. Moreover, the Lifetime Achievement award was presented to Steve Kalland, the Executive Director of the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center for his decades of education, policy, and partnership work across the entire cleantech industry.

The award competition received 40 outstanding nominations from across the state and RTCC is proud to share these award-winning and innovative solutions as examples of North Carolina’s leadership in cleantech, energy, smart cities, and more.

2019 Cleantech Innovation Award Winners

The following awards were presented to 2019 Clean Innovation Award winners by emcee, James Amato, who is the Strategy and Business Development Manager for WRAL TechWire:


Gannett Fleming engineered a new $40m wastewater treatment plant in Clayton, NC – the largest manufacturing investment in the state’s history. The 22-acre plant supports a $1.8b expansion of Novo Nordisk’s manufacturing facility, treating 450,000 gallons of industrial wastewater before returning it to the municipal sewer system. The unique public-private partnership between Novo Nordisk, the Golden Leaf Foundation, and the state of North Carolina promises to be a powerful economic driver for the region.


The North Carolina Department of Transportation led the nation’s first medical drone deliver program, successfully delivering 4,000+ critical diagnostic tests, medications, lab results, and supplies across WakeMed’s campus and regional network. Their innovative use of drone transport increases efficiency, lowers costs, and improves patient experience while also reducing emissions and traffic congestion from gas-powered delivery vehicles.


PowerSecure launched an Advanced Campus Microgrid in 2019 that incorporates multiples distributed energy resources at a single facility in Durham, NC, allowing their manufacturing facility to run both on and off grid. PowerSecure, which has installed nearly 85% of microgrids across the US, hosts a tour for customers, partners, and the community to demonstrate the advantages of microgrid technologies.


STEM RTP increases awareness of and access to STEM career opportunities to underserved students in grades 7-12 through events that incorporate problem-based learning, design thinking, hands-on demos, and mentoring. STEM RTP also organizes immersion experiences to local educators.


The US Environmental Protection Agency provides STEM education to students in grades K-12 and higher education across the RTP region, hosting at least 50% of programs at low-income schools. The Community Engagement & STEM Education program in the EPA’s RTP office reaches more than 20,000 students, educators, and community members through 300+ events. The program creatively communicates the EPA’s research to students with a range of backgrounds by translating activities and recruiting diverse mentors.


Medline Industries is constructing a 1.2m ft2 medical distribution facility in Orange County, NC – a development representing $65.3m in investment and up to 700 new jobs over 10 years. Moreover, the facility will be LEED-certified, creating positive impacts on the local environment as well.


Fayetteville, NC’s Public Works Commission is the state’s largest municipal utility, and the first to offer a subscriber-based community solar program incorporating a 1mW solar array and 560kW battery storage. Fayetteville’s City Council approved the community solar program to help the utility support renewable energy generation, reduce peak demand, and enable customers to ‘own’ solar assets without the cost of installation. The program, which opened customer subscriptions in November 2019, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 1,300 metric tons of CO2 equivalent, and the estimated $2.5m development has benefited the region.

Cleantech Momentum: Investment, Education, Workforce Development

This past year, our region continued its strong momentum of job creation, investment, technology innovation and education. Technologies developed here in the Triangle are solving the world’s critical energy and environmental challenges. And 2020 is poised to be another year of impactful progress.

For a review of RTCC’s role within the cleantech industry, view the 2019 RTCC annual report and the NC Cleantech Corridor year-end report.  The second annual Cleantech Innovation Awards will be held on December 9, 2020.