Duke Energy awards $96K to Joules Accelerator for cleantech projects in communities across Carolinas

The Duke Energy Foundation has awarded the Joules Accelerator $96,000 to establish a program allowing college students to help energy startups and work with neighborhoods in the Carolinas to bring pilot decarbonization projects to underserved communities.

The money will support a new program called Joules Camp. The accelerator is a Charlotte nonprofit established to foster development of early-stage cleantech startups.

“Duke Energy has been a longtime supporter of Joules Accelerator,” says Brian Savoy, Duke Energy Corp.'s (NYSE: DUK) chief strategy and commercial officer. “This grant will bring students into the program to help energy startups integrate cleantech programs in our local areas.”

Startups to pair with local communities for carbon-cutting pilots

Joules Executive Director Bob Irvin says the plan is to connect a few local communities to some of 80 cleantech companies that have participated in the accelerator since it started in 2013. Joules will attempt to pair community needs with pilot projects that startups can offer to cut carbon emissions or use in communities to help demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs and products.

The goal is to identify up to six startups to establish pilots in as many as six communities. Joules has budgeted about $60,000 to run the pilots. It has budgeted the remaining $36,000 to hire six interns from state universities and area colleges to work with the startups in setting up and administering the projects. The interns will also be required to prepare reports on the projects to detail successes and promote similar efforts elsewhere.

“We hope to start July 15,” Irvin says. “We expect there will be about two months of research to choose the communities and the pilots.”

The pilots would then run for three to six months, acquiring data and establishing the usefulness of the projects, he says. Irvin says Joules is using this initial grant as “seed money” to attract other potential sponsors for additional Joules Camp programs.

Fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in cleantech

In this early round, Irvin says, the accelerator hopes to identify 10 to 20 North Carolina communities that could benefit from cleantech pilots and work with them to determine their local needs and preferences. That would provide targets for the first pilots and additional community candidates for future projects.

Joules will focus on underserved communities, according to its funding application from Duke, in order to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in decarbonization efforts. Irvin notes one likely startup candidate from Joules’ latest cohort is ChargerHelp Inc., which looks to design local projects to operate and maintain public charging stations, training people in the community to do the work. The aim is to develop local workforces and promote equitable green-economy development.

The projects, interns and startups have not been chosen yet, Irvin says. But the plan calls for at least half of the student interns to come from minority groups underrepresented in the cleantech field. At least half of the projects will be in underserved communities.

Duke Energy is a founding sponsor of the Joules Accelerator. Ernst & Young is also a current sponsor. The program was founded with private contributions and a $750,000, three-year matching grant from the U.S. Economic Development Association.

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