University of Colorado researchers quantify benefits of national laboratory dedicated to clean energy
The economic impact of the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was $872.3 million nationwide in fiscal year 2014, according to a study by the University of Colorado Boulder's Leeds School of Business.
The study estimates NREL's impact to Colorado's economy totaled $701 million, a decline of 1.6 percent from the prior year. The slight year-over-year drop was largely attributed to a decline in major construction spending that came as NREL completed the planned build-out of its sustainable campus.
Jefferson County, where the largest concentration of NREL employees is located, saw a $275 million economic impact from the national lab. The Golden-based research laboratory is among the 10 largest employers in the county, according to the study, which was done by Richard Wobbekind and Brian Lewandowski of the Business Research Division at the Leeds School of Business.
The study was funded by Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC, which manages and operates NREL for the Department of Energy. The study is online at http://www.nrel.gov/about/business.html.
NREL develops clean energy and energy efficiency technologies and practices, advances related to science and engineering, and provides knowledge and innovations to integrate energy systems at all scales. NREL received $382 million in funding during 2014.
"This report shows how important NREL has become in taking our ongoing research into clean energy and making it available for the marketplace so that everyone can benefit," said Dan Arvizu, NREL director and president of Alliance for Sustainable Energy. "The completion of the NREL campus build-out plan gives our scientists better tools to do even more collaborative work with established companies and startups on new energy technologies."
The CU-Boulder study, which also contains data for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, found that during 2014 NREL:
Employed 1,730 full-time and 105 part-time employees.
Contributed $470,000 raised by employees to more than 400 charities. That figure includes a 10 percent match by Alliance for Sustainable Energy for every employee dollar given.
Welcomed nearly 25,000 visitors to its campus and adjacent Education Center.
NREL held 195 licensing agreements in 2014, resulting in the transfer of 166 new technologies for commercialization. More than 30 clean-energy companies have been started based on research at NREL.
Included in the report are case studies showing how innovations developed at NREL are moving from the laboratory into the marketplace:
NREL's partnership with OPXBIO of Boulder on a way to convert carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas feedstock into renewable fuels.
NREL's collaboration with the Department of Defense to help all branches of the armed services meet their energy goals.
NREL's opening of the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), allowing greater collaboration with companies on clean energy research.
NREL's ongoing support of the entrepreneurial community through its annual Industry Growth Forum.
Almost 60 percent of workers at NREL are involved in research and development, according to the study, which also highlighted a highly educated workforce. Among NREL workers, 95 percent hold at least a bachelor's degree, and 63 percent have earned advanced degrees, including 31 percent with a doctorate.
The scheduled completion of NREL's sustainable campus resulted in six buildings earning certification as LEED Platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council, including the ESIF and the Research Support Facility (RSF). The addition of ESIF to the campus gives NREL an unparalleled collection of state-of-the-art capabilities that supports the development, evaluation, and demonstration of innovative clean energy technologies. The RSF is a net-zero energy building, meaning that over the course of a year it produces at least as much energy as it uses. The NREL site serves as a model for the construction of energy-efficient buildings and campuses.
NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.