Creating a national hub of clean tech

For years, students have told UNC-Chapel Hill environment and ecology professor Greg Gangi that they no longer want to simply study what is wrong with the planet – they want to begin working on the solutions.

That problem-solving notion sparked the idea for the NC Clean Tech Summit — a place where academia, government and the private sector meet to share ideas and create solutions.

“The central theme of the conference is about the importance of clean technology to solve important state and global problems,” said Gangi, the associate director for education at UNC’s Institute for the Environment.

Held Feb. 18 and 19 at the Friday Center, the NC Clean Tech Summit highlights the latest innovations, recent trends and pressing challenges — and North Carolina’s central role — in the growing clean technology industry.

Chancellor Carol L. Folt, who made welcoming remarks Feb. 18, said the summit represents Carolina taking a lead in advancing clean technology. With the help of universities, government, business and non-profits, she said, North Carolina can become the national hub for clean technology.

Hosted by the Institute for the Environment and the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, the conference is focused on five main themes: The Internet of things: smart cities, smart energy, smart homes and smart water; energy transition in the southeast amid a changing landscape; exploring new approaches and solutions to environmental challenges, including industry water usage, restoration projects, and innovations in transportation; advancing clean tech economic growth through the power of collaboration between industry and universities; and innovative financing of clean technology.

Throughout the two-day conference, more than a dozen panel discussions led by industry, government and academic leaders will focus on innovation and emerging trends. Panels cover a range of issues from venture capital in clean tech and the state’s emerging wind industry to predictive analytics and clean energy policies.

In addition to the panels, the conference features keynote addresses from David Fountain, North Carolina President of Duke Energy, and Jim Hughes, chief executive officers of First Solar, which manufactures of solar panels.

The summit, Gangi said, is also the ideal time to build the relationships necessary to make progress, as well as introduce students to industry leaders.

“The goal is to not only educate students, but show them career pathways where there’s going to be a lot of opportunities in the future,” he said.

The connections and personal relationships made during the NC Clean Tech Summit are what Gangi hopes yields the big results.

“We’re trying to find where those sweet spots are where we can create public-private partnerships,’’ he said. “This is a good way to convene people and develop relationships and hopefully this will lead to good ideas.”

By Brandon Bieltz, Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Published February 18, 2016