The United States has been a leader in energy innovation for decades. Driven largely by the private sector, and with the help of first-rate research institutions, U.S. companies have produced emissions-cutting technologies that have improved the quality of life for Americans and people around the world. As the U.S. looks to continue this dominance, too much of the conversation focuses on what the federal government can do. While the federal government can play an important role in supporting research, development, and demonstration and modernizing antiquated permitting challenges, what is happening outside of Washington D.C. also deserves some attention. Here are three states that are leading in advancing energy innovation.
1. North Carolina
With its world-class universities and labs, emerging tech market, and diverse economy North Carolina is a hub for innovation. Since 2003, Wilmington has been home to GE Hitachi, one of the leaders in advanced nuclear energy technology. GE has a long history with nuclear power. In 1957, General Electric’s boiling light water reactor became the first privately owned and operated nuclear plant to deliver significant quantities of electricity to the grid. Today, GE Hitachi is developing several innovative technologies at its Wilmington plant, including the BWRX-300 small modular reactor which will be deployed by Ontario Power Generation at its Darlington New Nuclear Project as soon as 2028.
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Moreover, Vesta is planning its Coastal Carbon Capture pilot project in Duck, North Carolina that would use “carbon-removing sand made of the natural mineral olivine in coastal waters.” This method of carbon dioxide removal is a form of Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement, which the National Academies of Science, Engineering, & Medicine has called one of the world’s most effective and scalable climate solutions.
North Carolina is also home to Kings Mountain Lithium Mine, which is owned by Albemarle Corporation. In October the Department of Energy awarded Albemarle $150 million, as a part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), to scale up its mining and critical mineral recycling operations at Kings Mountain. A part of this money will also go to funding a mineral processing operator training program in the community and mineral research programs in the state. As Nick Loris pointed out in recent testimony before Congress, diversifying and strengthening America’s supply of critical minerals is crucial to achieving key environmental and energy security goals. Projects like these help America accomplish these objectives.
Traditionally associated with its large coal reserves and usage, Wyoming is fast becoming an energy innovation leader. In November of 2021 TerraPower, an advanced nuclear reactor company started by Bill Gates, announced that Kemmerer, Wyoming would be the site for its Natrium reactor demonstration project. The Natrium reactor, which was developed with GE Hitachi (another innovation win for North Carolina), “features a cost-competitive sodium fast reactor combined with a molten salt energy storage system.” The storage system allows the reactor to quickly boost its output to support the grid during peak hours, a feature that is especially important as renewable energy generation increases.
As Wyoming becomes an advanced nuclear energy leader, it is also becoming a global leader in direct air capture. Project Bison, which will begin operations this year, will pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and store it deep underground in saline aquifers. By 2030 Project Bison plans to capture 5 megatons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of removing 1 million cars from the road.
It should come as no surprise that the nation’s energy leader is also a leader in innovation. Starting in 2026, Odessa, Texas will be home to the world’s first utility-scale emissions-free natural gas power plant. Operated by NET Power, the power plant uses a surprisingly simple method to produce carbon-free electricity. As Nathalie Voit recently explained for C3:
“Instead of burning natural gas with air (the conventional method of producing electricity from natural gas), NET Power utilizes pure oxygen as the primary oxidant in the Allam-Fetvedt Cycle. The resultant supercritical carbon dioxide is then used as a working fluid in a combustion turbine to generate energy. The only byproducts? Water and pipeline-ready CO2, which can be sequestered underground or sold for use in high-value industrial processes.”
Texas’ competitive electricity market structure has allowed the state to advance a diverse portfolio of energy sources including battery storage. Last year Vistra Energy brought a 260MWh battery energy storage system online in Texas, one of the largest such projects in the nation.
Texas has also shown promise as a leader in geothermal energy, with one study finding that the state’s geothermal reserves could produce more electricity than Texas’ shares of oil and gas. In fact, since 2016, 11 geothermal startups have launched in Texas. For reference, 16 total startups have launched in the United States (outside of Texas) in that same time period.
These are just a few examples of private sector energy innovation that is happening across the nation. By implementing pro-growth policies at the state and federal levels, policymakers can ease burdens to allow innovators and entrepreneurs to continue this remarkable progress.