Reduce the patchwork of state regulations. Build out energy infrastructure. Focus on training workers in the crafts. Better educate consumers on smart grid technology benefits.
Those were some of the suggestions energy and smart grid leaders passed on to members of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness this week in a roundtable discussion on Centennial Campus at North Carolina State University.
The breakout session was one of several occurring simultaneously to coincide with the President’s visit to North Carolina. The others included biotechnology, entrepreneurship and jobs training.
Also in attendance were North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt chaired the session. Other Council members included:
- Jeffrey Immelt, chair and CEO, GE
- Lewis Hay, chair and CEO, NextEra Energy Inc.
- Gary Kelly, chair, president and CEO, Southwest Airlines
- Brian Roberts chair and CEO, Comcast Corporation
- John Doerr, partner Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfied & Byers
NC State University chancellor Randy Woodson hosted the event.
Immelt said the group was focusing on how to get people back to work with a practical and focused effort. Several executives said spending on infrastructure ion the energy sector was the key.
“One way to put people back to work is in the modernization of coal plants,” said Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy.
Other executives suggested patching the state-to-state regulatory environment would help spur development, while others suggested alternative financing opportunities, especially those not currently available to small businesses. An executive with Red Hat urged the industry move to a more open source environment.
The event was held on Centennial Campus in part because of the FREEDM Systems Center, a research center and university consortium dedicated to smart grid technology and distributed energy. Council members toured the facility, which includes work on a new type of smart solid state transformer, recently named to MIT Technology Review’s 2011 list of the world’s 10 most important emerging technologies. FREEDM, which stands for Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management, was formed in 2008 by a five-year, $18.5 million Engineering Research Center grant from the National Science Foundation.
The center benefits from its location in the Triangle, one of the nation’s top smart grid hubs. A recent Duke University study counted nearly 60 smart grid companies in the region. They include the power systems giant ABB, which is developing a Smart Grid Center of Excellence just down the road from FREEDM on NC State’s Centennial Campus.
Several participants of the roundtable discussion are also corporate partners of the FREEDM Center.
Centennial Campus is an internationally recognized 1,314-acre research park and technology campus owned and operated by North Carolina University. Home to more than 60 corporate, government and non-profit partners, such as Red Hat, ABB, and the USDA, collaborative research projects vary from nanofibers and secure open systems technology to serious gaming and biomedical engineering. Four university college programs also have a significant presence on campus – College of Engineering, College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Textiles and the College of Education. NC State is one of the top research universities in the country, with expenditures in research approaching more than $360 million annually.