US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is celebrating its 40 years of existence. It is an organization set up by the US Government under the Department of Energy’s (DOE) in 1977, after the first middle east oil crisis, to “focus on creative answers to today's energy challenges”. While the need for energy security triggered the action, the object of clean energy was possibly merged into it. With over 2200 employees comprising mostly PhDs and highly qualified engineers, and a funding close to half a billion dollars for year 2017, NREL is making major breakthroughs in both fundamental sciences and their applications connected with production, storage, and utilization of renewable energy. Its researchers are making, through their discoveries and developments, a major impact on how the US nation and the world at large use energy.
Mission and Programs
As per the statement on their website, “NREL advances the science and engineering of energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and renewable power technologies and provides the knowledge to integrate and optimize energy systems”. In few words, it is promoting energy efficiency and reducing reliance on fossil fuel, at the same time, promoting a greener planet.
To achieve these objectives NREL is focusing on:
Sustainable Transportation- In this direction, the target areas are improvements in vehicle technologies to improve efficiency and reduce pollution; and development of cleaner renewable fuels like hydrogen and biofuels.
Energy Productivity -This means promotion of roof-top distributed energy production from solar and wind etc., in residential and commercial buildings.
Renewable Electricity- This involves promotion of technologies facilitate and improve commercial production of electric power from the sun, wind, water and geothermal sources.
Systems Integration- Integration of distributed energy production with the grid; development of storage technologies including chemical and thermal storage; and energy analysis.
Honors and Awards
the American Council of Renewable Energy (ACORE), a national industry association presented National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) with the “Technology Advancement & Industry Impact Award” for the latter’s forty years of fruitful contributions to technology and industry growth in the field of energy. ACORE appreciated that NREL had repeatedly delivered technological improvements to enable a remarkable expansion in the renewable energy sector.
Tech giants Google and Amazon also joined NREL in receiving awards. They each received ACORE’s “Corporate Innovation and Industry Leadership Award,” for their “rapid adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies” to power their operations.
While a government organization under the US department of Energy (DOE), The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is managed for the U.S. by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC, a partnership between Battelle and MRIGlobal.
Achievements in Solar Energy
While NREL has always been justifying its existence through research and innovation, some recent achievements are, chronologically (from the NREL website):
January 2015- NREL developed a more precise technology for measuring efficiency of concentrating solar cells, enabling the industry to advance.
September 2015- New Multijunction Designs Lead to Ultra-Efficient Solar Cell. Four-junction III-V multijunction cells to reach 45.6% efficiency at 690 suns.
December 2015- NREL Photoelectrode Research advanced hydrogen production efforts when its scientists created a high-performing photo-electrode that boosted the ability of solar water-splitting to produce hydrogen.
January 2016- NREL, CSEM scientists set a new world record for converting non-concentrated sunlight into electricity using a dual-junction III-V/Si solar cell.