2008 Feature Stories
The following feature stories take an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at how NREL is advancing energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.
Whether you live in a mansion or a cottage, NREL's In My Backyard can show you which solar or wind system might be right for your home almost anywhere in the U.S. In My Backyard helps calculate solar or wind resources, the economics of renewable energy systems and answers other basic questions. Researchers now have made the online tool more informative and easier to use.
NREL is collaborating with laboratories on three continents to advance renewable power and fuel technologies and expand clean energy industries worldwide. The partnerships will team scientists and analysts in photovoltaics, biofuels and concentrating solar power. Expanding the lab's international profile is vital if renewable energy technologies are to reach their potential.
For Sale: A new bungalow near the American River in historic Folsom, California. With NREL's help, the environmentally friendly design cuts utility bills and peak electric demand by 80 percent, yet blends into a turn-of-the-20th century streetscape. Green Builder Magazine named the bungalow Home of the Year.
Most kids want to visit Disney World. Not David Godfrey. The San Jose teenager wants to help others – and the planet – by spreading the use of renewable energy. With help from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the young scientist shared his innovative ideas at NREL and got the chance to shake a wind turbine blade, zip around in advanced vehicles and explore the molecular structure of biofuels organisms.
Sure, the desert is sunny. But when it comes to building a solar power plant costing hundreds of millions of dollars, finding absolutely the best sunlight can make the difference in making sufficient electrons – and a profit. NREL and industry partners have launched a new solar instrument network in the Southwest that will measure the solar resource in unprecedented detail.
Participants in NREL's 21st Industry Growth Forum learned that despite current market conditions, the prospect of long-term national support for renewable energy and energy efficiency R&D and the recognition of how "green collar" jobs can drive economic recovery generate an enthusiasm for clean energy's prospects that most industries would envy.
Teenagers in Jerome, Idaho, will flip the switch on a small wind turbine on the lawn next to their middle school this week with help from NREL's Wind for Schools program. The turbine will make electricity, but more important it can spark the imagination and inspire students to pursue careers in renewable energy.
Air travelers landing in Denver soon can look out on a field of glittering solar panels as NREL helps launch America's largest shared commercial solar testing facility. Energy companies and scientists will use the site to test, validate and demonstrate technologies before commercial deployment.
NREL is switching to a sustainable, efficient source of heat using wood thinned from Colorado forests. A new boiler facility will heat laboratory buildings by burning wood chips from trees lost to pine beetles and could displace 80 percent of natural gas used to heat the campus, offsetting 4.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
Finding more efficient and less costly ways to directly convert the sun's energy to clean electricity and fuels will require a fundamentally new approach to solar R&D. The Center for Revolutionary Solar Photoconversion (CRSP) has started by awarding its first research grants.
Director Dan Arvizu's induction in the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference Hall of Fame caps a record year of accomplishment in which laboratory researchers and their projects received more than two dozen international and national prizes.
Every state has dozens of contaminated sites that are unproductive — or even abandoned. A new analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency and NREL shows that some hold surprising renewable energy potential.
What's better to build – a new coal-fired power plant, a wind farm or a solar power plant? For communities and industries making strategic energy choices, NREL has expanded its suite of analytical tools to help determine economic impacts and make technology comparisons.
Everyone is trying to reduce their fuel bill, but imagine if you had to fill up a fleet of 1,000 trucks? VIBE is NREL's new clean energy command center designed to marshal information and synthesize trends that industry and governments need to make clean energy decisions.
Twenty years ago, NREL Research Fellow Dr. Timothy Coutts scoffed at a suggestion that solar cells could be 20 percent efficient. Now poised to become an emeritus fellow, he predicts solar technology will become "omnipresent."
Golden sand, swaying palms, turquoise waters — it's a traveler's dream. But paradise has a price. Developed islands such as Hawaii, the Bahamas, New Zealand and Iceland rely almost exclusively on imported oil. A U.S. Department of Energy initiative with NREL aims to transform island societies into renewable energy destinations.
As NREL's annual review of research accomplishments went to press, energy continued to make headline news around the globe. This year's NREL Research Review describes how the lab's innovations in a wide range of technologies from biofuels to buildings to thin-film solar cells are heading to market — right when they are needed the most.
It's hard to imagine the impact that renewable energy can have on planet Earth or in the state of Colorado — unless, of course, you've seen two of NREL's newest exhibits. One opens in downtown Denver this month, the other is spinning at NREL's Visitors Center in Golden.
Michael Crowley's cartoons are unlike anything you'll see on Nickelodeon. Crowley's animation of an enzyme vital to the production of cellulosic ethanol has won a DOE prize against competition such as models of Hurricane Katrina and nuclear combustion.
This ranch home near Denver doesn't look like a power plant, but the Net-Zero Energy Home has exceeded expectations by generating more energy than it consumes. NREL built the three-bedroom home with Habitat for Humanity in 2005 to demonstrate how affordability can be combined with energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alexander Karsner announced that NREL would be home to a demonstration and research fleet of advanced vehicles in dramatic fashion — from a stage surrounded by cars and trucks featuring cutting-edge technologies. Then he took one for a spin.
And the envelope please...NREL has won two R&D 100 awards for photovoltaic innovations. These prizes are considered to be the "Oscars of Invention" because they spotlight the year's most significant new commercial technologies around the world. NREL has won a total of 42 of the awards since they were established 39 years ago.
NREL Director Dr. Dan Arvizu is a new voice in the world's increasingly urgent conversation about energy — how we make it, how we use it and its impacts on the economy and environment. In the past few months, Arvizu has been invited to sit on boards that could shape new businesses in the global public interest, stimulate scientific breakthroughs and provide thoughtful advice on energy and economic issues to U.S. and international governments.
U.S. solar manufacturing grew by 74% in 2007, one of the fastest industry growth rates in the world. To keep up with demand, the solar industry needs larger and faster solar module testing. NREL is responding to industry needs by expanding its Outdoor Test Facility, allowing researchers to test larger solar modules — and more of them — in a real-world test lab.
There is a disconnect between the American West's rich renewable energy resources and the region's vast electricity grid. It's a problem that must be addressed if renewables are to help supply the nation's fast-growing communities with sufficient power. NREL is helping western states look for efficiencies.
Gas prices aren't the only records being broken. Triple-digit fuel economy once was reserved for exotic vehicles. Now NREL engineers have modified a Toyota Prius hybrid that cracks the 100-mpg benchmark. Road warriors can't buy one of these vehicles yet, but automakers say they are interested in the technology.
The energy it takes to power and cool growing data centers now adds up to more that it costs to buy the information technology (IT) equipment. And that does not compute. NREL plans to help lead by example with green IT practices and innovations in its new buildings.
NREL will push wind energy technology forward with new large projects at its National Wind Technology Center in Colorado and on the coasts of Texas and Massachusetts in a bid to help the U.S. realize the full potential of this rapidly growing source of renewable energy.
Identifying and manipulating semiconductor "quantum dots" a billionth of a meter in diameter to boost solar cell efficiency has brought international recognition to Dr. Arthur Nozik and his NREL team. The Eni Award has been a top energy prize for 20 years. Now the Italian energy giant Eni has repurposed its award to provide incentives for technological achievement with a special emphasis on renewable sources.
Solar research is leading to exciting new developments that could mean powering more with less. NREL's Dr. Mark Wanlass has come up with an upside down way to build tiny solar cells with a big kick. For the soldier in the field, it means carrying less weight and a reliable energy pack for key gear.
Harnessing the wind that comes sweepin' down the plain could provide 20 percent of America's electricity by 2030, according to a first-of-its-kind report from the U.S. Department of Energy, spearheaded by NREL. The environmental and economic benefits of boosting wind energy's contribution would be enormous and the costs are modest, the report says. "First of all it is doable, second of all it's desirable," NREL Director Dan Arvizu said.
A "lunchbox" that turns high school students loose on algae may help solve the nation's energy challenges. At least that's the intent of an amazing learning tool called the Lunchbox Lab that gives students the power to examine strains of algae to see if they can produce hydrogen. Researchers at NREL and Futurefarmers designed and built the first Lunchbox Lab, which is now on display at New York City's Museum of Modern Art.
Only a few people were able to see the spark of hope and opportunity after the devastation of a rural Kansas town a year ago. But that spark, with NREL's help, has grown to a bright future for Greensburg as it pursues its vision of rebuilding as one of the greenest communities in America. It's the one-year anniversary of the nearly complete destruction of the farming community by a 1.7-mile-wide tornado, and the story of Greensburg's path to recovery is a remarkable one.
R&D Magazine picked NREL's Science and Technology Facility as one of the best laboratories built in the U.S. in 2007. In the 42nd Laboratory of the Year competition, the NREL facility was one of only two labs recognized as design trendsetters.
He's only one manikin, but he's a manikin with NREL's mission at heart. ADAM, as he is affectionately called, is an Advanced Automotive Manikin who daily helps researchers find new ways to make cars more comfortable, while saving significant amounts of fuel. He does it by sweating. Usually in a car.
NREL has five new Research Fellows, leaders in bioenergy, nanotechnology, photochemistry and photophysics, wind energy and hydrogen research. Helena Chum, David Ginley, Garry Rumbles, Bob Thresher and John Turner join the top rank of internationally recognized NREL scientists and engineers who help guide the Laboratory's research.
NREL's significant profile at one of the leading world conferences on renewable energy included Director Dan Arvizu providing keynote remarks on March 4 at the business conference for the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC 2008).
NREL's Strategic Energy Analysis and Applications Center is leading efforts to design models that produce credible, reliable analyses that support NREL research. The Wind Deployment System, or WinDS, is one such model.