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Image: State Library NC/creative commons

As the ad above from The Fifties demonstrates, North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park (RTP) has long been positioning itself as a hub for high tech innovation. New figures suggest that it is now at the forefront of one of the most critical sectors for long-term sustainability, namely the development of a truly smart electrical grid. In fact, the Research Triangle Research Partnership reports that there are 60% more firms in RTP working on smart grid related technology than there were just two years ago:

The Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP) released findings today showing the smart grid sector in the Triangle region has 60 percent more firms now than previously known just two years ago. Ninety-six smart grid companies were identified in the Triangle, up from 59 in 2011. The total count is 200 firms when including companies that specialize in efficient water management and efficient transportation. Fourteen percent of those companies have been established in the last five years, suggesting rapid growth in one of the main sectors of the cleantech industry in the region.

The development of “smart grid” technology has been much hyped in recent years, and can be loosely categorized as the evolution of the electrical grid from a centralized model to a decentralized one, where supply and demand are managed through real time communication between producers and consumers.

From decentralized renewable energy generation to “smart meters”‘;and appliances which can turn on and off based on the supply (and cost!) of electricity, there are obviously many pieces to the smart grid puzzle, and there are a growing cluster of businesses working on all aspects of that puzzle in the Triangle area. Citing the example of Semprius, a solar energy manufacturer which has an R&D department in RTP itself and a manufacturing facility in Vance County, RTRP CEO Charles Hayes argued that the benefits of this clean tech growth are rippling out throughout the region:

“The RTRP – comprised of economic development agencies and a wide range of public and private partners to market the Triangle region for new jobs and investment – is the organization that recognized cleantech as an economic strength in this region and organized a program to leverage and grow this vibrant part of our economy. Economies are regional and the RTRP’s efforts to increase our competitiveness and unite communities are centered around a shared vision to bring opportunity to all citizens, in urban and rural communities.”

As the example of Silicon Valley in California shows, there’s a huge advantage in clustering businesses based on a collective interest. Not only does this benefit the region itself, but potential synergies and collaborations borne out of physical proximity mean that technological development can accelerate too.