International Cleantech Experts Convene in the Research Triangle Region

Research Triangle Region, N.C. – International experts in renewable energy, plug-in transportation and smart grid power management convened in the Research Triangle Region Oct. 24-27 to explore ways to collaborate and advance innovation in this important area of global competitiveness.

The four-day visit of the International Cleantech Network (ICN), hosted by the Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP) and N.C. State University’s Office of Research, Innovation and Economic Development, served to both showcase the region’s extensive assets in this emerging cluster and connect more of the region’s academic, business, government and economic development partners with opportunity and potential partners around the world. (View conference photos)

“Currently, there are very few technical providers in smart grid and North Carolina is the leader for that, which is why we are here,” said Christian Köberl, project manager for ICN member Eco World Styria in Austria.

Copenhagen Capacity business development manager Maria Kanstrup-Clausen agreed.

“This area has so much [cleantech] research and industry,” she said. “It’s been great to see what’s going on firsthand and to meet our partners in North Carolina. I am learning a lot about smart grid and this is information I can take back and use in Denmark.”

Triple Helix Model Highlighted

ICN ( launched in 2009 to connect the world’s leading cleantech cluster organizations to promote innovation and business development among its member regions. “Cleantech” refers to products, services and processes that use renewable materials and energy sources to improve performance while dramatically reducing impact on the environment.

The Research Triangle CleanTech Cluster boasts 623 firms and extensive R&D assets related to this work. The region’s cluster and Colorado Clean Energy Cluster are the only two U.S. members of ICN.

Delegates toured many of the region’s cleantech research centers and companies, including the National Science Foundation FREEDM Systems Center, ABB Smart Grid Center of Excellence and Duke Energy’s Envision Center, all located on N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus. They discussed entrepreneurial investment with business leaders at Durham’s American Tobacco Historic District and American Underground, Research Triangle Energy Consortium and The Research Triangle Park and received briefings and tours of green initiatives and demonstration projects at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Orange Water and Sewer Authority.

A highlight of the week was a panel discussion hosted by SAS that focused on the region’s triple-helix approach to competitiveness, a key factor in the region’s success growing this and others clusters.

U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) hailed the innovative approach during videotaped remarks aired before the panel.

“We are not a clean energy leader by accident,” Hagan said. “North Carolina is known for its forward-thinking policies and people are moving here because they know they will have the support to innovate because the triple helix works as a team.”

Smart Grid panelists represented key triple helix players in the cluster, such as: Tim Fairchild, director of global utilities practice for SAS; Alex Huang, director of the NSF FREEDM Systems Center; Larry Shirley, director of the Green Economy at the N.C. Department of Commerce; Ivan Urlaub, executive director of the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association; Gary Rackliffe, vice president of smart grid development for ABB North America; and Ed White, chief advisor for EMC’s electric utility business unit.

Panelists shared their expertise on topics ranging from energy flow research to integrating new forms of energy into the power grid, investment and rapid scaling, public policy and marketing. Break-out sessions allowed ICN members to explore key topics in depth.

Spain’s Mónica Moso said she the region’s triple helix model of collaboration makes it an attractive cluster partner.

“Things change fast in this industry and I want to know and see how cleantech is really working,” said Moso, general director for ACLIMA, the Basque Environment Industry Cluster. But “I am also here to look for opportunities and collaborations with triple helix partners.”

Regional smart grid business leader John Jennings, product management director for power systems design and simulation software maker Power Analytics, said the forum opened key doors of business opportunity and connections for his company.

“We want to help write the definition of what smart grid is and what it will become, to develop those standards as it evolves,” Jennings said. “We are strongly interested in being part of the smart grid working group sessions and are very excited to be a part of this.”

ICN Members Plan Future Gatherings

The October ICN conference is one of several planned for the year. Members will meet next in Copenhagen then in Singapore to continue their discussions, briefings and networking.

Here are ICN’s current member clusters and their areas of focus:

  • ACLIMA, the Basque Country's Environmental Industry's Cluster Association in Spain, comprising 98 organizations aimed at strengthening the competitiveness of the companies in the area through extended research and implementation of sustainable solutions and diversification strategies. Areas of focus include waste management, wastewater treatment and public policy.
  • Colorado Clean Energy Cluster, a statewide organization fostering market transformation for clean energy. It focuses on innovative and entrepreneurial strategies to grow the clean energy sector through actionable projects and initiatives that directly benefit Colorado clean energy companies.
  • Copenhagen Cleantech Cluster, focused on creating continuous growth for existing cleantech companies, supporting and assisting new cleantech companies and attracting more foreign cleantech companies to Denmark’s Capital Region.
  • ECO WORLD STYRIA in Austria, a research-driven energy and environmental engineering cluster that supports its member companies with services aimed at increasing competitiveness through strategic growth levers, innovation, expertise and new markets.
  • Lombardy Energy Cluster in Italy, an industrial cluster for power generation, transmission and distribution that works to create an integrated supply chain in different fields of energy plant investment and to aggregate small and medium enterprises.
  • Oslo Renewable Energy and Environment Cluster in Norway, which focuses on innovation, international cooperation, building competence, networking and public relations to increase the speed of innovation and opportunities for business development for its participants.
  • Renewable Energy Hamburg in Germany, which consolidates individual activities of its renewable energy industry to create a solid framework and stimulate the growth of the whole sector. REH aims to link the greatly expanding renewable energy sector in Hamburg with other international cluster organizations to support growth, job creation and the innovations of regional companies and research institutes.
  • Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster, working to accelerate economic and technological growth through strategic alliances and collaboration initiatives among clean technology companies, higher education and the public sector. The cluster connects its members with each other and with domestic and international partners.
  • Singapore Sustainability Alliance, which focuses on developing Singapore into a leading regional and global hub of sustainability solutions and promote adoption of sustainable business practices. It offers robust capabilities across clean energy, environment and water, built environment, urban mobility, green information technology and urban planning.
  • Tenerrdis Energy Cluster in France, which supports research and innovation in energy production, storage and management in several sectors and provides members with certification, access and special funding to develop projects.

Membership in the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster can benefit any company interested in being a part of this dynamic emerging field. To learn more, contact RTRP Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Lee Anne Nance at or (919) 840-7372.

The Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP) is a public-private partnership that coordinates economic development for the Research Triangle Region, home of The Research Triangle Park and the 13 central-North Carolina counties of Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Moore, Orange, Person, Vance, Wake and Warren. For more information, visit


U.S. Senator Kay Hagan greets members of the International Cleantech Network during their October visit to the region. RTRP hosted the network of global cluster leaders in renewable energy, plug-in transportation and smart grid power management for a four-day visit. Members toured regional research centers and companies to learn about this important emerging cluster and heard from regional leaders about the triple helix model of promoting business growth and competitiveness that has made the region one of the most economically competitive in the world.