Editor’s note: Steve S. Rao is a Council Member At Large and Former Mayor Pro Tem for the Town of Morrisville and an Opinion Writer for WRAL Tech Wire.  He served on the Board of the New American Economy, now the American Immigration Council, and on the NC League of Municipalities Race and Equity Task Force.

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Last year, I was so inspired by Bill Gates’ book How to Prevent a Climate Disaster, that I wrote a blog for Tech Wire on how our region needed to focus on sustainable innovation to help our nation and world achieve net zero carbon emissions.

Well, over a year has passed since I wrote this article, and my attendance at the RTP Clean Tech Cluster Awards last week convinced be that our Region continues to make  great progress  in our sustainable innovation playbook.

The theme of the event was Transformation through Collaboration and in my opinion, the event did live up to the expectations of this inspirational theme.

Steve Rao

The awards winners demonstrated how our region is accelerating the growth and leadership of the cleantech economy, leveraging the unique concentration of industry, academic, and government leaders in the Research Triangle to create benefits through innovation, deployment, and talent.

A special thanks to North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Machelle Sanders, who shared how our region and state has emerged as a destinaton for clean tech investment , from Vinfast to Wolfspeed and others.

Secretary Sanders reminded the audience that North Carolina has always had a rich history of innovative, software, hardware, and technology companies all focused on improving the quality of life and reducing the consumption of energy.    It all began with Westinghouse locating here in 1954, followed by ABB’s investment in our state in 1989, and today, ABB is a global leader in electrification with much of their work being done in North Carolina.

And, following on the heels of Global Entrepreneurship week, the Secretary reminded us that Cree, now Wolfspeed, was founded by NC State students and today, 60% of semiconductor components for electric vehicles are manufactured in North Carolina.

President Biden was here last year to celebrate how the Chips Act is helping Wolfspeed with these investments.     Vinfast’ expansion was another major milestone in these efforts, and just two weeks ago, Forge Nano announced 200 jobs and $165 million investment in a Morrisville Lithium Battery Manufacturing hub.

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Our pipeline of talent for the manufacturing workforce, an agile  and innovative Community College system, strong universities, and high quality of life will only help our state grow clean tech investment in the state, which means more jobs for all of us.    I also see these large clean tech investments spurring on more start ups in this area, especially, ones in Smart Cities, which RIOT has been growing and showcasing in many of their start up incubators.  Green Stream Technologies for example is a local start up, which has been assisting municipalities in their flood monitoring and continues to grow.

A major highlight for me during the evening was Solarize the Triangle receiving the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster 2023 award for “Cleantech Impact in Local Governments.  The Town of Morrisville worked with Solarize the Triangle over the past few years, and our residents have seen direct savings and benefts from this innovative program.

Over the course of 2 campaigns, so far they have signed 291 contracts for solar installation, which represents almost $488,000 in yearly avoided energy costs, $9.75M in new clean energy development, and over 5 million pounds of carbon dioxide avoided yearly. They have also used their collaboration to kick-start a grant program to put solar PV systems on the roofs of low-to-moderate income homeowners.    In my opinion, Solarize the Triangle demonstrates the opportunities for collaboration between local governments and clean tech innovation, yielding so many benefits for the residents we serve while at the same time helping us lower carbon emissions and advance our climate change goals.

Finally, the evening ended with inspiring remarks from Dr. Deb Wojick, Executive Director of the RTP Clean Tech Cluster.     Deb reminded us that clean tech transformation in our region has been based on the Triple Helix Model, which brings together the academia, industry and government partners to accelerate clean tech innovation in our region and world.

The Helix model has worked in Sweden, Moscow, and Barrier Reef and many other places in the world and it is clear that this model is working in the Triangle.We are bringing all of these stakeholders together and prioritizing our clean tech investments.   Academic research at universities like NC State is leading to funding clean tech start ups, which will create more jobs and advance innovation and economic development.

Deb’s remarks did convince me that Bill Gates was correct in his book that the government cannot by itself achieve zero carbon emissions on its own.   She challeged all of us to think of new ways of collaborating, and to always think of new ways of solving problems and addressing our clean tech goals.

A special thanks to Deb and all of the Award winners for for reminding us of two of the most important plays in our sustainable innovation playbook:

  1. COLLABORATION, plain and simple and that
  2. INNOVATION MEANS new ways of thinking, not only new technologies.

Our execution of these two critical plays will transform the Research Triangle region to the most innovative and successful clean tech region in the world.

To view the 2023 RTP Clean Tech Cluster Award winners, please visit https://www.researchtrianglecleantech.org/cia_2023/