As the Charlotte region continued to establish itself as the Southeast’s energy hub, the mission of the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) to serve the academic and research energy engineering needs of the area became increasingly pertinent. With more than 200 companies employing 20,000 people directly tied to energy, the Charlotte region has an allied core of research, development and engineering assets, and a growing base of manufacturing related to energy that has earned it the title “The New Energy Capital.”
Building collaboration in support of the energy engineering needs of the region, EPIC became the new home of CLT Joules and E4 Carolinas. CLT Joules is a business community organization that promotes energy innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration. E4 Carolinas is a non-profit agency formed by 14 of the region's leading energy companies with the mission of promoting and developing the energy hub.
To provide greater access to EPIC research capabilities and create a more consistent revenue stream for EPIC, a new affiliates program was started in 2016. Corporations may choose one of three levels of affiliation, each providing increasing amounts of service and involvement. The affiliates themselves will propose and choose studies and proof-of-concept projects to be undertaken. All affiliates will also be involved in senior design projects and workforce development to varying degrees.
To fulfill its mission of educating the next generation of energy engineers, EPIC worked with the Lee College of Engineering’s academic departments to established energy concentration programs in almost all of the undergraduate disciplines. This effort included the design of new courses in areas such as energy storage, natural gas processes, renewable energy and power plants. At the graduate level, all of the degree programs now offer thesis options related to energy.
The Flexible Energy Laboratory was established in 2016 to offer a secure environment to conduct standard compliance and functional performance testing of power and energy systems. With equipment supplied by Parker Hannifin, the lab is equipped to support 750kW ac power at voltages up to 690Vac, 1000Vdc and more.
To provide the infrastructure needed to support academic and research programs, EPIC created new photovoltaic, high-voltage and data analytics laboratories. These will join the Duke Energy SMART Grid Lab, Siemens Energy Large Manufacturing Solutions Labs, and structural high-bay lab as state-of-the-art facilities in the 200,000 EPIC building that opened in 2012.
EPIC was a primary supporter of UNC Charlotte’s research and involvement in coal ash management. This included the establishment of the Coal Ash Liquid Management (CALM) program. CALM utilizes, compliments and leverages the expertise of UNC Charlotte’s coal ash experts by partnering with a variety of coal ash, coal combustion energy, and waste-water treatment experts from industry and government.
EPIC also supported the work of the Sustainably Integrated Buildings and Sites (SIBS) center to make buildings more efficient. An I/UCRC, SIBS is a collaboration between companies, corporations, universities, government agencies and other organizations to improve energy use, water use, air quality and productivity in buildings. The center also develops students who are knowledgeable in industry-relevant research and prepares them to develop innovative products and services that enhance global competitiveness. Projects focus on integrating and validating technologies that work to minimize the impact of the built environment on the natural environment.
EPIC took the lead in establishing the Center for Advanced Power Engineering Research (CAPER), a partnership with NC State and Clemson universities. CAPER’s mission is to develop and demonstrate grid modernization technologies and enhance the educational experiences of students in electric power engineering.
With leadership from Electrical and Computer Engineering, EPIC hosted the 47th North American Power Symposium (NAPS). NAPS is held every year at a different university in North America and provides an international open forum for participants from academia and industry to exchange innovative ideas and solutions with one another.