Electric Power Institute expands

EPRI helps make Charlotte an energy hub

01/19/2013 12:00 AM

01/16/2013 8:29 PM

The Electric Power Research Institute, a national nonprofit organization that conducts research and develops new technology to improve energy use, has expanded its University City campus, bolstering Charlotte’s reputation as an energy powerhouse.

“I think it’s one of the feathers in the city’s cap in terms of being an energy hub,” said Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy.

EPRI’s Charlotte campus, in University Research Park, is off of West W.T. Harris Boulevard near Interstate 85.

Last year, EPRI bought its third building, at about 108,000 square feet, to expand its campus to about 45 acres total. EPRI bought the building from Verbatim Corp., which used to make floppy disks there, for $5 million.

For $7 million, EPRI gutted and renovated the building, and it reopened in October. Spokesman Jeremy Dreier said the addition was much-needed space for the growing institute.

He said all of EPRI’s research is done on a collaborative model – more than 2,000 scientists and engineers from around the world visited Charlotte’s EPRI campus last year to collaborate on projects – and there wasn’t adequate meeting space for big groups.

“With the collaboration we do, you’ve got to sit down and have a place to sit,” Dreier said. “This third building has really given us some space to grow and have some elbow room.”

EPRI is headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., but Dreier said that because the Charlotte location has grown over the years, it’s considered one of the organization’s top sites. He said about 200 people are employed by EPRI in Charlotte.

The new building now features six large meeting spaces. Their walls can retract to form a 5,400-square-foot area for larger groups.

The newly remodeled building also houses one central location for nuclear inspection training and research, called the performance demonstration facility, said Brian Schimmoller, a spokesman for EPRI’s nuclear research.

There, people come from all over the country to become certified in inspecting nuclear plant sites and to learn how to better maintain piping and machinery used at nuclear energy facilities.

EPRI has many projects in the works, from gloves that use ultrasound technology for detecting problems within piping to drones that will inspect transmission lines.

“Most people don’t realize the impact we have on the industry,” said Don Kintner, the spokesman for EPRI’s power delivery and utilization branch.

Research and testing is funded by companies and groups that collaborate with EPRI on projects.

Duke Energy’s Tom Williams said the company has invested many millions of dollars in collaborative projects with EPRI over the years.

“It’s great to have them in our backyard,” he said. “They have incredibly talented engineers, and really, just a series of professionals – it’s a real coup for Charlotte to grow that kind of association.”

Altogether, EPRI’s three buildings now total 260,000 square feet, and it’s space that will be well-used, Dreier said.

“We have a lot of space here to grow,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

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