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National Renewable Energy Laboratory
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the U.S. Department of Energy is the nation's primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development (R&D). NREL R&D competencies are designed to develop and advance renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies more effectively through the full R&D life-cycle - from basic scientific research through applied research and engineering; to testing, scale-up, and demonstration. NREL also conducts extensive research through cooperative agreements with universities and other research organizations.
NREL conducts renewable energy and energy efficiency R&D in 12 main programmatic areas. Each research area is enhanced by crosscutting functions, including industry.
Advanced Vehicles and Fuels
Working in partnership with public and private organizations, we research, develop, and demonstrate innovative vehicle and fuel technologies that reduce the nation's dependence on imported oil, and improve our energy security and air quality. Our goal is to help industry introduce advanced, low emission, economically competitive vehicles and fuels into the marketplace. Our work in this area supports several NREL programs and is led by the Center for Transportation Technologies and Systems.
Research in Basic Sciences is fundamental to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL's) mission of developing renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and advancing the science behind them. In this area, NREL scientists apply their talents and expertise to the in-depth study of energy-related materials and devices. This research extends the frontiers of basic scientific knowledge in the physical and biological world and in the nature of matter and energy.
Basic research starts at the cellular or atomic level. NREL scientists explore phenomena, investigate existing materials and synthesize new ones, and model devices and approaches. Research at this fundamental level is key to the renewable energy technologies that will someday fulfill the world's energy needs.
The Material Science Program researches the structural, optical, electrical, and defect properties of some exciting new semiconductors and related materials for photovoltaic and other energy-related applications by using state-of-the-art theoretical and experimental techniques.
Chemical Sciences projects advance the basic understanding of the relevant science in chemistry, photochemistry, photoelectrochemistry, catalysis, materials chemistry, nanostructured materials, and semiconductor physics and chemistry that supports evolving solar photochemical conversion technologies. Efforts also are made to integrate advances in basic chemical sciences into relevant technology-development activities.
The goal of the Energy Biosciences Program is to advance the basic understanding of bacterial and plant photosynthesis (including relevant metabolic pathways) and to apply that knowledge to the development of renewable fuels (including hydrogen), chemicals, and materials, as well as to address environmental problems.
NREL is working to develop cost-effective, environmentally friendly biomass conversion technologies to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, improve our air quality, and support rural economies. Biomass is plant matter, such as trees, grasses, agricultural crops, or other biological material. It can be used as a solid fuel, or converted into liquid or gaseous forms, for the production of electric power, heat, chemicals, or fuels. By integrating a variety of biomass conversion processes, all of these products can be made in one facility, called a biorefinery. Biomass R&D efforts at NREL are focused on:
NREL is a nationally recognized leader in buildings research combining renewable energy with innovative technologies to significantly reduce energy consumption in buildings. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, homes and commercial buildings use 71% of the electricity in the United States and this number will rise to 75% by 2025. Opportunities abound for reducing the enormous amount of energy consumed by buildings. NREL is at the forefront in developing advanced building technology and science to reduce the amount of energy consumed in our nation's buildings, with a goal to significantly improve the energy efficiency of buildings and to accelerate the use of renewable energy technologies within the next decade. NREL research accelerates industry adoption of advanced energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies in both the residential and commercial buildings marketplace.
NREL research activities combine work in:
NREL's buildings research is primarily done through the Center for Buildings and Thermal Systems, which conducts research in heat transfer, thermal dynamics, and systems engineering to reduce the energy consumption of buildings. The Lab’s geothermal research is included in this Center.
The Scientific Computing Center is NREL's source of basic and applied research in computational science, high-performance computing, and applied mathematics in support of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. The Center’s research focuses on three areas:
Computation is an equal and indispensable partner, along with theory and experiment in the advance of science and engineering. Numerical simulation enables the study of complex systems and natural phenomena that would be too expensive or dangerous or even impossible to study by direct experiment.
Concentrating Solar Power
NREL collaborates with industry to further the research and development of concentrating solar power (CSP) plant and solar thermal technologies.
To research, develop, and test a variety of concentrating solar power technologies, NREL features the following laboratory capabilities:
NREL's R&D projects in concentrating solar power focus on parabolic trough solar technology and advanced concentrating solar power technologies.
Electric Infrastructure Systems
Electric infrastructure systems R&D at NREL is focused on distributed energy testing and certification, interconnection standards and codes, interconnection and control technologies, energy management and grid support applications, and distributed energy regulatory and institutional issues. As our nation's electric power system ages, it is faced with increasingly difficult load and power quality demands. Physical, technical, and economic constraints have combined to place heavy burdens on an already-taxed system. NREL is working to strengthen the electric power system through the integration of distributed energy resources and advanced power electronics.
These research areas support NREL's Distributed Energy and Electric Reliability Program and are a part of NREL's support for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.
NREL's Technology Analysis evaluates the attributes of renewable energy technologies in terms of potential costs, benefits, risks, uncertainties, and timeframes. The Lab's Benefits Analysis looks at the economic, environmental, security, and other impacts of current renewable energy programs. NREL's Market Analysis helps key players increase the use of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies in the marketplace through understanding of market responses. Through Policy Analysis, the Lab evaluates rules and regulations that can advance - or provide alternatives to - renewable energy technologies in meeting national goals. The Lab's Program Analysis conducts work that determines the goals of the Department of Energy's (DOE) budgeting, planning, and management functions.
Analysis at NREL aims to increase the understanding of the current and future characteristics, roles, and interactions of government, markets, and technologies. The acquired understanding is used to inform technology, benefits, market, policy, and program decisions as energy efficient and renewable energy technologies advance from concept to commercial application.
The Strategic Energy Analysis and Applications Center (SEAAC) integrates and supports the energy analysis functions located in many of the Laboratory's research programs and technology centers.
NREL's quest to lower the costs of producing geothermal energy has led to five specific areas of research concentration:
NREL research projects not related to power plant efficiency include Geothermal Facility Siting issues and Feasibility Studies of geothermal applications for remote areas in international markets.
Hydrogen and Fuel Cells
Hydrogen and fuel cell R&D efforts at NREL are focused on hydrogen production and delivery, hydrogen storage, fuel cells, technology validation, safety, codes and standards, and analysis. These research areas directly support the NREL Hydrogen, Fuel Cells, & Infrastructure Technologies Program. The goal of this program is to help industry develop technologies to produce, store, transport, and use hydrogen made from renewable resources in quantities large enough, and at costs low enough, to compete with traditional energy sources, such as coal, oil, and natural gas.
Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe. Hydrogen can be produced from a wide variety of domestic resources using a number of different technologies. Fuel cells harness the chemical energy of hydrogen to generate electricity without combustion or pollution. NREL is working to develop and demonstrate advanced hydrogen and fuel cell technologies to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, improve our air quality, and maintain our economic competitiveness.
NREL's hydrogen and fuel cell research activities crosscut and contribute to advances across the laboratory-in photovoltaics (PV), bioenergy, transportation, wind, buildings, and basic sciences. The Hydrogen Technologies & Systems Group of the Hydrogen Technologies & Systems Center coordinates and integrates NREL's hydrogen and fuel cell research activities and works with DOE and other government agencies, industry, communities, universities, and other national labs.
Renewable Resources Data and Maps
Because renewable resources vary considerably from one geographic location to another, optimal siting of renewable energy systems requires knowledge of the specific resource characteristics - availability, magnitude, and variability - at any given location. NREL provides high-quality renewable energy resource data for U.S. and international locations. NREL's Resource Integration Section of the Electric Systems Center coordinates the Lab's resource integration.
The Geographical Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system used to manipulate, manage, and analyze data important to solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal technologies. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory uses GIS to create dynamically-generated maps of renewable energy resources that determine which energy technologies are viable solutions in the United States.
The Measurement and Instrument Data Center provides real-time irradiance and meteorological data from measurement stations located throughout the U.S. in California, North Carolina, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and multiple locations in Colorado. Baseline measurement systems are located at the Solar Radiation Research Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.
NREL's online Renewable Resource Data Center (RReDC) is the world's largest free collection of renewable energy resource data, offering comprehensive information on solar, wind, and biomass, renewable energy resources in the U.S. Up-to-date data, resource maps, publications, and other information about renewable resources are available through the RReDC.
NREL's Solar Radiation Research is performed in a unique outdoor research facility designed to provide continuous research-quality solar radiation and other meteorological data for use in climate change studies, atmospheric research, renewable energy conversion system testing, and more.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Photovoltaic (PV) research is focused on decreasing the nation's reliance on fossil-fuel generated electricity by lowering the cost of delivered electricity and improving the efficiency of PV modules and systems. NREL's PV research contributes to these goals through fundamental research, advanced materials and devices, and technology development supporting the U.S. Department of Energy goal to reduce the average cost of all grid-tied PV systems from $6.25/watt to $3.30/watt for end users.
NREL’s PV R&D emphasizes innovative research, thin-film development, manufacturing, systems development, and reliability. NREL scientists conduct this research in collaboration with universities and the solar industry through research partnerships and direct support of the NREL Solar Program and the Solar America Initiative.
NREL PV R&D is performed under the National Center for Photovoltaics.
Much of the wind industry's success can be attributed to the research conducted at NREL's National Wind Technology Center (NWTC). Research conducted at the NWTC has led to the development of multi-megawatt wind turbines that produce electricity at a cost that is starting to compete with conventional energy sources in the marketplace. To make wind energy fully cost competitive and increase wind energy development, researchers at the NWTC are working in partnership with industry to develop larger, more efficient, utility-scale wind turbines for land-based and offshore installations, as well as more efficient, quieter small wind turbines for distributed applications.
Wind is a clean, inexhaustible, indigenous energy resource that can generate enough electricity to power millions of homes and businesses. Wind energy is one of the fastest-growing forms of electricity generation in the world. The United States can currently generate more than 10,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity from the wind, which is enough to power 2.5 million average American homes. Industry experts predict that, with proper development, wind energy could provide 20% of this nation's energy needs.
A Model of Sustainability
Our 327-acre main campus in Golden, Colorado, houses four LEED-rated buildings. The laboratory also operates the National Wind Technology Center near Boulder, Colorado.
NREL also conducts research for DOE's Office of Science and Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.