National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was instituted on July 5, 1977, under the name Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI). The primary goal of SERI was to harness power from the sun. In 1991, the Presidentthen George H. W. Bush elevated the institution to a national laboratory and converted its name to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Since then, the institution has become the primary national laboratory under the US Department of Energy (DOE), which focuses on advancement of clean and renewable energy.
Although NREL is a governmental institution, most of the research is outsourced to private firms. Some of the notable partnerships include Midwest Research Institute (MRIGlobal) and Battelle Memorial Institute. The two firms manage the day to day operations of NREL for the DOE. It also works collectively with academic and research institutions in more than 66 countries all over the world. In addition, it has programs that supports visiting professionals, researchers and student interns to offer their valuable talents and expertise.
With enough funding from the government, NREL functions range from research and development (R&D) to testing, commercialization and deployment. They have since branched out from seeking solutions for clean and renewable energies to scientific and technological solutions, such as chemical and biosciences, scientific computing, material sciences and advanced vehicle technologies. The institution is divided into various arms, each with its own functions. They include:
1. The National Center for Photovoltaics (NCPV)
NCPV is a branch of the NREL responsible for improving photovoltaics (PV) modules and systems. Under the SunShot initiative of the DOE, NCPV strives to decrease over-reliance on fossil fuel by increasing the output of solar power and presenting it at a cheaper costthan other sources of energy.This department has successfully managed to increase productionof amorphous silicon based thin film PV modules, while reducing the production costs. This has reduced the cost of solar based electricity from PV panels.
2. National Bioenergy Center
Established in 2000, NBC is a bioenergy research and development arm of the NREL. Its primary goal is to come up with the right technologies toproduce bio-based fuel and energy. It has partnered with other governmental institutions, such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). NBC is responsible for extensive researches inbio refineries and biomass conversion technologies.It therefore has vast influence in various industries ranging from food and forest to chemical and bio-technology industries.
3. National Wind Technology Center
The National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) is the nation’s main wind-based energy research facility. Located in a 305 acre site on the foothills of South Boulder, Colorado, it is a center of wind test laboratories and field test sites. The primary goal of NWTC is to create the necessary technology that will facilitate wider deployment of wind-based energy at the lowest cost possible.It has more than 20 patents to its name, including FAST software. FAST is an open-source, modular software tool that is used in the design, testing and analysis of wind turbines.
4. Transportation and Hydrogen Systems Research
Transport and Hydrogen Systems Research is involved in the research and development of affordable, low emission, energy efficient and high performance technologies for passenger and freight transportation. Its main goal is to create innovative infrastructure and fuel needed for the development of electric, fuel cell, hybrid and conventional vehicles. THSR has had ground breaking achievements in its transportation research activities. Some of the notable ones include, discovery of high-octane fuel standard, development of plug-in hybrid electric trucks and development of full integrated systems that are compatible to cars, power grids and other renewable energy sources.
The institutions exemplary work has been rewarded over the years with a number of awards. It is among the highest recipients of R&D 100 Awards with 61 awards to its name. In 2016 alone, NREL won three awards for the EcoSnap-AC Heat Pump System, Battery Internal Short-Circuit Device and High-Temperature, Wide BandgapUnderhoodInverter.Exceptional individuals in the institution have also been recognized by the scientific community, the government and various agencies for their contribution towards clean and renewable energy initiatives.NREL buildings have also wonvarious awards for their high performance infrastructure.Some of the awards include:
- The Energy Systems Integration Facility won the LEED Platinum Award (2013).
- Research and Support Facility won the LEED Platinum Award, U.S. Green Buildings Council (2011).
- Science and Technology Facility won ASHRAE Technology Award for Institutional Buildings (2008).
- Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility won the S. Green Buildings Council Gold LEED Rating (2011).
- South Site Entrance Building won the S. Green Buildings Council Platinum LEED Rating (2013).
- NREL Café won the S. Green Buildings Council Platinum LEED Rating (2013).