CLEANcarolinas, spearheaded by the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) at UNC Charlotte, achieved a significant milestone in community engagement with the successful conclusion of its inaugural workshop. Titled “CLEANcarolinas: A Vision for Clean Energy Innovations to Drive Regional Economic Development in the Carolinas,” the event served as a platform for industry leaders and took place in conjunction with the 2023 Making Energy Work conference in Raleigh. The conference featured North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper as a highlighted speaker and was hosted by the NC Sustainable Energy Association.
Dr. Alan Cohen, a program director for the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines program, played a pivotal role as the key presenter at the CLEANcarolinas workshop. Addressing a sold-out audience, he delved into the NSF’s Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate and the flagship Regional Innovation Engines program. A central theme of his presentation underscored the significance of use-inspired research and its seamless translation into the market, enriching the entire cycle of discovery and innovation.
Mike Mazzola, Executive Director of EPIC and program director of CLEANcarolinas, emphasized the alignment of TIP’s focus on practical solutions with CLEANcarolinas’ objectives. He stated, “The resulting momentum built from our collective goals will steer the success of clean energy advancements in the Carolinas, creating an economic and workforce engine for the region. Our two states already host 260+ energy-related companies with a $17.8 billion economic impact on this area, which accounts for 11.7% of the region’s economy. Imagine how CLEANcarolinas is poised to accelerate much-needed impact and serve as a model for other regions.”
The workshop featured panel discussions on economic and workforce development within the clean energy sector, with panelists including Rob Cox, Associate Director of EPIC at UNC Charlotte, and Saffeer Khan, Associate Professor of Practice and CLEANcarolinas program co-director. The panel also included representatives from partner organizations and other leaders in the energy sector.
UNC Charlotte, committed to leveraging partnerships with government, industry, nonprofits, and communities for innovative research, stands out as an ideal leader for the CLEANcarolinas regional innovation engine. EPIC, in collaboration with partners such as the South Carolina Research Authority, the NC Clean Energy Technology Center, E4 Carolinas, the NC Department of Commerce, and other leading higher education institutes, actively develops a core resource to guide the clean energy efforts and economy of the Carolinas.
The success of the “Vision for Clean Energy Innovations” workshop has set a notable benchmark for community engagement in the national Innovation Engines program.