Our Accomplishments

NREL advances the science and engineering of energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and renewable power technologies. To celebrate the 45th anniversary, here are some of the lab's many accomplishments.

Two people stand in front of a digital modeling wall.

Modeling for a Modern Energy System

Millions of new devices—such as electric vehicles, renewable generation, hydrogen production, energy storage, and grid-interactive efficient buildings—connect to the grid daily. Understanding the impact and opportunity of those devices requires a research environment that recreates real-world dynamics and provides space for exploration. The Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems platform is ready to take on the challenge and represents a scale-up in experimentation capability—allowing for research at the 20-MW level with the help of a virtual emulation environment powered by NREL's 8-petaflop supercomputer. With resilience and recovery as its cornerstones, Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems graduated from concept to critical application and was used to repower NREL's Flatirons Campus after a utility-scale outage.

A man in a laboratory inspects a plastic water bottle

Revamping Recycling: Redesigning Materials and Tackling Plastic Waste

The NREL-led Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment (BOTTLE) Consortium seeks to address the global crisis of plastic waste and wholly redesign tomorrow's plastics to be recyclable by design. BOTTLE conducts high-impact research and development to deliver scalable technologies that enable cost-effective recycling, upcycling, and increased energy efficiency for plastics. Bringing together national laboratories and private partners, like shipping and shopping giant Amazon, BOTTLE could economically incentivize the recycling of waste plastics and help solve one of the world's most looming pollution problems.

Two people point to and read a laptop

Accelerating From Startup to Full Start

Bringing technology to market and building relationships with industry partners can be the downfall of many cleantech companies. NREL is unlocking startups' entrepreneurial potential with the right resources and runway to launch compelling, cutting-edge technology. From 27 years of the Industry Growth Forum, a one-of-a-kind cleantech networking conference, to the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator reaching over a billion dollars in external funding, to the launch of the West Gate program providing unrivaled access to the laboratory, NREL's incubator and entrepreneurship programs are helping promising new tech leap to success.

A daytime street view of a city with skyscrapers, cars, buses, and people

LA100 Shows Path to 100% Renewable Electricity—in Los Angeles and Beyond

To find an equitable and economical path to a 100% renewable energy power system, the city of Los Angeles enlisted NREL analysts and experts. The result? The LA100 study is a first-of-its-kind, objective, highly detailed, rigorous, and science-based study that analyzes potential pathways the community can take to achieve its clean energy goals. Pioneering a more holistic approach to energy analysis, LA100 placed the community at the center of the conversation to reach an equitable energy transition. NREL analysts found numerous pathways to reaching 100% and, regardless of which avenue the city follows, projected economic impacts to be small relative to the overall size of LA's economy. The groundbreaking study is now a blueprint for other jurisdictions, like Puerto Rico and Louisville, Kentucky, to reach their own clean energy goals.

a row of wind turbines stand in the ocean

Gale-Force Gains: Offshore Wind Takes Off

Offshore wind has the potential to be a centerpiece in the nation's clean, renewable energy system. Eighty percent of all prototypes for offshore wind floating platforms have been designed with the help of NREL open-source analysis tools—which NREL created through collaboration with laboratory partners. NREL experts identified opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico that could provide a technically feasible resource potential of 508 gigawatts, formulated a strategic vision for floating offshore wind that uses a fully integrated systems-engineering and techno-economic approach, and continue to accelerate innovation through partnerships.

A photo of ethanol samples in a laboratory.

Cellulosic Ethanol: The Price Is Right

Ethanol produced from non-food plant sources, called "cellulosic ethanol," can potentially replace 30% of our nation's petroleum consumption. But can it do so at competitive prices? From 2006–2012, NREL worked with private industry to create models, perform biomass-to-fuels test runs, and analyze market data in an attempt to answer that question. The result: the team proved that cellulosic ethanol could be produced for $2.15/gallon, a price that was cost-competitive with other transportation fuels.

A photo of an NREL scientist looking closely at a solar cell.

Stack and Flip: Recipes for Superefficient Solar

NREL solar researchers found a winning combination of materials to create a high-efficiency solar cell: a bottom layer of gallium arsenide (GaAs) and a top layer of gallium indium phosphide (GaInP), the first practical multi-junction "III-V" solar cell (referring to columns in the periodic table). This structure led to the commercial development of the GaInP/GaAs/Ge three-junction cell, which has powered satellites and the Mars rovers. By using lattice-mismatched materials and building solar cells in an inverted order to prevent defect propagation, NREL then developed a four-junction cell with 45.7% solar conversion efficiency. With each layer capturing a different part of the solar spectrum, NREL continues to push cell efficiencies toward 50% with five- and six-junction cells, opening new opportunities for application in space and terrestrial-concentrator solar power generation.

A photo of an NREL person viewing a simulation at the ESIF.

Cool Ride: Thermal Management Boosts Electric Vehicle Performance

Regulating battery and power electronic system operating temps is key to optimizing the performance, lifespan, safety, and affordability of electric-drive vehicles. NREL innovations, including our R&D 100 Award-winning Isothermal Battery Calorimeters; Battery Internal Short Circuit Device; and High-Temperature, Wide Bandgap Underhood Inverter, troubleshoot battery and drivetrain thermal performance issues to make next-generation electric-drive vehicles more competitive with conventional vehicles.

A 3-D rendering of a building energy model.

Home Run: Building Energy Modeling a Hit

NREL made building energy modeling easier for architects by creating the OpenStudio software platform, which works with SketchUp, a 3D drawing tool that architects often use to design buildings. Companies have built onto the software platform for use in energy audits. The Energy Design Assistance Project Tracker, for example, automatically generates a report that includes all information that utility Xcel Energy requires and more.

A photo of an electric city bus.

Fewer Fossils Help Clean Cities

NREL's support of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Clean Cities program provides technical assistance to early adopters of alternative fuels and advanced vehicle technologies and access to sophisticated tools, vital data collection, and fleet analysis. With NREL's assistance, Clean Cities' network of nearly 100 local coalitions have saved more than 8.5 billion gallons of petroleum since 1993.

A photo of the FlashQE measuring system.

Bright Lights, Fast Solar Tests

NREL developed the FlashQE system, which measures the quantum efficiency (QE) of solar cells 1,000 times faster than previous methods, making in-line measurements possible. QE measures the cell's response to the full spectrum of visible light, typically by measuring the response to one narrow part of the spectrum at a time. The FlashQE system accelerates this process by using 26 LED lights at different wavelengths to cover the full visible spectrum, with each light blinking at a different frequency. High-level math then pulls apart the resulting data to find the response to each of the 26 lights, yielding QE measurements as well as other data. The system is licensed to and offered by Tau Science Corporation.

A photo of a plate of many small biofuel samples.

Drop-In: Next-Gen Biofuels Make a Splash

As a follow-up to its success with cellulosic ethanol, NREL has turned its attention to the next generation of biofuels: so-called "drop-in" biofuels that function just like crude oil or any of today's major petroleum fuels, allowing them to be easily incorporated into the existing fuel infrastructure. From 2010-2013, NREL and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory led the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium, an effort to winnow down the list of possible biomass conversion technologies and to prepare one or two processes for scale-up to the pilot scale, a critical step for commercializing the process.

A photo of five men at a hydrogen fueling station trailer.

Hydrogen Fueling Stations: Up and Atom

NREL, Sandia National Laboratories, and Powertech Labs have developed and built the Hydrogen Station Equipment Performance (HyStEP) Device to measure the performance of hydrogen fueling station dispensers, allowing the stations to open to the public more quickly. The mobile device is a surrogate for the current time-consuming practice of requiring each individual fuel cell electric vehicle manufacturer to evaluate a dispenser before allowing its cars to fill there. HyStEP, developed with funding from DOE's Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure Research and Station Technology project, will accelerate the development of hydrogen fueling station networks in California and across the country.

A photo of a wave energy test unit in the water.

Wind Facility Blows Wave Energy Testing out of the Water

An NREL dynamometer facility designed for wind has undertaken first-of-its-kind research to help advance new ocean energy technology. The dynamometer, one of the only facilities in the country that can apply rotational torque as well as the side forces that mimic the sea's back-and-forth oscillation, will put Columbia Power's StingRAY wave energy converter through its paces to ensure the device can withstand ocean forces without damage. This research will help Columbia Power deliver electricity at a competitive cost while having a low environmental impact.

A photo of two researchers standing outside of the ESIF.

These Walls Really Suck (To Preheat Air)

NREL and Conserval jointly developed the transpired solar collector for ventilation preheating in commercial buildings. The technology involves a dark-colored, perforated façade installed on the building's south wall. Ambient air is preheated by this dark surface as it is sucked through and then fed into the building's makeup air supply. According to Conserval, the technology can heat ambient air up to 100°F, displacing 20%–50% of a building's heating fuel consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions. Marketed as SolarWall, the invention won an R&D 100 Award in 1994 and is now used around the world, including on the NREL campus.

A photo of a red hybrid electric sports car.

Paving the Way for the First U.S. Hybrid Electric Vehicles

NREL collaboration with the Big Three automakers—General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford—in the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles developed the nation's first production-feasible prototypes of hybrid vehicles viable for mass production.

An image of building design architectural drawings.

Cracking the Code: Advancing High-Performance Home Design

The key to high-performance homes that pencil out is to identify the ideal mix of energy efficiency improvements that deliver the highest impact at the lowest cost. NREL's Building Energy Optimization (BEopt) software tool models options for achieving various levels of energy savings along the path to net-zero. BEopt has impacted thousands of DOE Building America program homes by providing a consistent analysis platform that ensures accurate simulations for optimizing energy consumption and cost. And BEopt algorithms adopted by private-sector home energy rating system software tools have enhanced the efficiency of tens of thousands of ENERGY STAR-certified homes.

An image of a mirrored parabolic-trough shaped solar system.

Mirror, Mirror: Silvered Plastic Saves Weight

NREL collaborated with SkyFuel to develop an innovative mirror-like material consisting of polymer sheets incorporating very thin silver layers. This ReflecTech® Mirror Film was then used to create a parabolic-trough concentrating solar power system, called the SkyTrough. The lack of heavy glass mirrors in the SkyTrough make the entire system lighter and cheaper, allowing the use of an aluminum space frame, resulting in further savings. The SkyTrough is also shatterproof, faster to install, and features highly accurate optics. All told, SkyTrough should reduce the installed cost of parabolic-trough systems by 35%.

A photo of 3 NREL researchers reviewing a model of an electric vehicle battery.

Better Batteries Add Brawn to Electric Vehicles

While electric vehicles promise to curb greenhouse gas emissions and slash America's need for imported oil, the design of high-performance, cost-effective, and safe batteries has proven challenging. NREL is leading teams of automakers, battery developers, and other research institutions in developing the sophisticated software tools needed to create batteries for next-generation electric vehicles. Multi-scale modeling tools created by NREL will improve and accelerate battery design and production, boost electric vehicle performance and consumer appeal—and ultimately diminish energy use and emissions.

A photo of a wind farm in Kansas.

Rising Resilient: NREL Expertise Informs Post-Disaster Rebuilding

After a massive tornado destroyed or severely damaged 95% of Greensburg, Kansas, in May 2007, city leaders, business owners, and residents devised a strategy for rebuilding as a model sustainable rural community. Applying innovative, energy-saving recommendations from NREL's on-the-ground technical assistance providers, building designers and operators cut energy use as much as 50% in office buildings, hospitals, schools, and stores, saving more than $200,000 annually. Greensburg's successes and lessons learned, documented in publications and design guides compiled by NREL, helped create a replicable model for other communities to follow in the aftermath of disasters, including hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

A photo of wind farm visualization at the ESIF.

The Butterfly Effect at Wind Farm Scales

If the flap of an insect wing creates a wake, then imagine the dynamics taking place at a wind farm. That's what the Simulator for Wind Farm Applications does. NREL developed this open-source software to help visualize how weather patterns, turbulence, and complex terrain impact wind plant performance. Simulator for Wind Farm Applications brings atmospheric science directly into wind plant flow modeling and control, helping both land-based and offshore wind arrays boost power output while reducing turbine wear and tear.

A Photovoltaic efficiency chart.

Charting Efficiency: 41 Years of Photovoltaic Record Setters

It has become a solar industry icon: the colorful, chaotic photovoltaic (PV) conversion efficiencies chart, originally conceived by Larry Kazmerski, and maintained by the National Center for Photovoltaics,. Devices included in this famous visual of the current state of the art have efficiencies that are confirmed by independent, recognized test labs (e.g., NREL, AIST, Fraunhofer) and are reported on a standardized basis. Long the gold standard of PV record setters, it charts the history of not only PV devices, but the solar industry itself.

Two NREL analysts review a grid integration map on the wall.

Art of the Possible: Integration for a Nation

NREL led the development of two ground-breaking studies: the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study and the Eastern Renewable Grid Integration Study. Working with large industry technical review committees, these in-depth studies have moved the needle on what utilities and grid operators thought was possible in terms of integrating wind and solar into electric power systems. From early on, there was significant pushback from grid operators that the power system could not incorporate more than 5% variable renewables. These two studies modeled penetrations up to 30% and showed that the grid could handle the levels with small modifications to current practice. These studies have enabled wind and solar deployments to go forward—full speed ahead.

A photo of a gloved hand holding the emitter.

Bright Idea: NREL Innovation Offers New Path to Improved LED Performance

Lighting systems based on solid-state light-emitting diodes (LEDs) enable enormous energy savings. However, fundamental materials challenges that favor blue emitters have led to a restricted palette of efficient white-lighting system designs. Inspired by our basic semiconductor research and solar cell development activities, NREL has identified new emitter material approaches for significantly improving the performance of red and orange LEDs. These new LEDs would enable highly efficient, cost-effective white-lighting systems with enhanced color quality and control.

A photo of several NREL staff looking at a computer.

Know 'Em Before You Build 'Em With Modeling

Those developing new renewable energy projects need accurate estimates of the physical and financial performance of proposed projects well before the first shovel hits the dirt. NREL's System Advisor Model (SAM) is a do-all model for renewable energy, including models for PV, all types of concentrating solar power technologies, solar-generated process heat, small and large wind power, geothermal power and co-production, biomass power, battery storage, solar water heating, and conventional thermal systems. Accessible for free, SAM combines the best publicly available hourly performance models with detailed financial models to help stakeholders in the industry make informed decisions about their grid-connected power projects. For example, SAM includes the PVWatts® Calculator, which has been used to estimate the energy production and cost of energy of grid-connected PV systems throughout the world.

A photo of a wave energy converter in the water.

NREL Code Causes Waves Within Emerging Wave Energy Conversion Industry

The hottest tool rising to the surface in the up-and-coming marine and hydrokinetic community industry is the result of a partnership between NREL and Sandia National Laboratories. The numerical-code Wave Energy Converter Simulator (WEC-Sim), first version released in 2013, is a publicly available, open-source device that models the performance of promising new WEC ideas. Unlike expensive proprietary tools, the WEC-Sim program can be modified to meet the needs of new devices, which enables WEC technologies to progress rapidly. At a time when the identity of the wave energy industry is just coming into focus, WEC-Sim promises to help establish a level playing field among potential players.

A photo of two men reviewing a large flat screen monitor in a laboratory.

Resilient Power: NREL Demos Mission-Critical Microgrid

When a military installation loses power, operations come to a standstill, missions are cancelled, and national security is compromised. To address the need for utility-scale energy storage solutions that provide power system redundancy for critical operations, NREL’s Energy Systems Integration team has combined forces with Raytheon Company, Primus Power, and Advanced Energy to successfully demonstrate an advanced microgrid system that draws on batteries and solar PV energy for its power. The demonstration led to a pilot system at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, designed to power one building for at least 72 hours and the base has contracted to install a much larger microgrid.

A microscopic image of lignon which looks like a web.

Core Potential: Lignin Proving Its Worth

Lignin provides stability to plant cell walls but is seen as a hindrance and waste product in biomass conversion to biofuels. Until now. NREL has demonstrated that by using micro-organisms to create novel biological pathways, it can potentially convert lignin into valuable co-products — low-cost carbon fiber, engineering plastics and thermoplastic elastomers, polymeric foams and membranes, and a variety of fuels and chemicals all currently sourced from petroleum.

A photo of a large, blue hybrid freight truck.

Trucking Smart: Cutting Fuel Use and Operating Costs

Ever in pursuit of a competitive edge, the trucking industry is exploring innovative ways to cut fuel use and operating costs. NREL partners with American automakers, vehicle equipment manufacturers, and fleet operators to develop and assess solutions that maximize the fuel economy of medium- and heavy-duty trucks—from freight truck platooning to climate-control technologies to heavy hybrid propulsion systems. As home to one of the nation's few chassis dynamometers, NREL has the ability to simulate on-road driving in a controlled laboratory setting to gauge vehicle performance and emissions.

A photo of Peregrine, the high-performance computer at the ESIF.

Super Cool: Supercomputer's Efficiency Chills Competition

NREL teamed with Hewlett-Packard and Intel to develop the innovative warm-water, liquid-cooled Peregrine supercomputer, which not only operates efficiently but also serves as the primary source of building heat for NREL's Energy Systems Integration Facility offices and laboratories. This high-performance computer can perform more than a quadrillion calculations per second as part of the world's most energy-efficient high-performance computer data center. R&D Magazine recognized NREL and Hewlett-Packard with a 2014 R&D 100 Award and Editor's Choice Award for this innovative design.

A photo of two people walking by a window at NREL.

A Switch … for the Sun

With the flip of a switch, a tiny flow of electricity can change the tint of your windows. Pioneered by NREL and developed over three decades, electrochromic windows provide an automatic, adjustable window tint that allows you to control the amount of sunlight entering your building, keeping you warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Cheaper electricity bills, more privacy, and a better view: it's all possible with a window technology that stemmed from NREL's research, spurred a new industry for U.S. manufacturing, and is installed in buildings across the country.

A photo of biofuels sampling.

Cocktail Hour: Enzyme Shakes Up Biofuels

Converting cellulose from non-food plants to the sugars that are fermented for biofuels requires powerful, yet affordable, cellulase enzymes. NREL partnered with two leading enzyme companies, Novozymes and Genencor, to engineer a cocktail of three cellulases that convert biomass to ethanol at 3% of previous cost. The reduction in enzyme cost was a major step toward increasing the market potential of biofuels.

A photo of an online map showing alternative fueling stations.

National Asset: Largest Cache of Transport Data

NREL offers the nation's largest collection of unbiased, accurate, and comprehensive data and web-based tools for transportation RD&D, with a focus on alternative fuels, advanced vehicles, emissions, fueling infrastructure, travel data, and policy incentives. The Alternative Fuels Data Center, operated by NREL on behalf of Clean Cities, acts as a one-stop shop for vetted information related to advanced transportation technologies.

A photo of a geothermal cleaning device.

We Made Geothermal Steam Cleaner

It's super clean, but there's also an eww factor to geothermal energy. Certain "unsavory" gases collect in the condensers of steam plants and cut performance. When NREL developed a technology to condense spent steam more effectively, things started to smell rosier for the geothermal industry. Our advanced direct contact condenser technology not only boosted generation capacity at the largest geothermal facility in the world by 17%, it also stunk of savings by cutting the cost of hydrogen sulfide emission abatement in half.

A photo of several construction workers inside the S&TF.

Award-Winning Innovation: Blazing the Trail to Net-Zero

Federal leadership is key to providing an impetus for the nation to realize the economic, environmental, and national security benefits of greater energy efficiency. NREL has been a consistent trailblazer in adopting high-performance building design innovations. In 2006, NREL laid claim to having the only LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum federal building with its Science and Technology Facility. In 2014, NREL raised the bar even higher when its Research Support Facility became the first federal building verified to achieve net-zero energy performance, producing as much energy as it consumed. Today, LEED Platinum federal buildings are becoming commonplace, including six LEED Platinum buildings on the NREL campus.

A photo of Sarah Kurtz, NREL Solar Scientist, speaking to people next to solar panels.

We Have High Standards … for Solar Panels

As a customer, you want your solar panels to work as advertised. NREL has worked with others around the world to define standards that can help customers gain confidence in the solar systems they buy and to help differentiate the very best products. The International PV Quality Assurance Task Force—a joint effort of NREL and partners around the globe—studies how the failure mechanisms for solar systems are changing as the technology matures and works with standards groups to increase the quality of solar panels, no matter where in the world they’re manufactured. NREL plays a key role in helping the community move toward solar systems that are low cost and that work reliably.

A photo of the assembly of a wind turbine.

Boosting the Wind To Sustain an Industry

Since the inception of the commercial wind industry in the 1980s, NREL has collaborated with turbine manufacturers to develop many of the technology innovations that enabled the success of the industry today. In the early 2000s, the Wind Partnership for Advanced Component Technologies project explored improvements in rotor design to improve reliability and decrease the overall cost of energy. Wind Partnership for Advanced Component Technologies partnerships between NREL and turbine manufacturers led a generation of technology innovations including pitch control and variable speed strategies, which in turn gave way to enlarged rotors for greater energy capture at reduced cost.

A photo of computer screen showing four U.S. electricity grid maps.

Model Student: Making the Grid Smarter

NREL's world-class modeling capabilities have underpinned several groundbreaking technical reports. For example, the Regional Energy Deployment System was integral to NREL's Renewable Electricity Futures Study, which found that renewable technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, can supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country. Recently, the California Independent System Operator released a study backing the Renewable Electricity Future Study's conclusion.

A photo of three men standing in front of a large map.

ResStock: National Home Energy Analysis Made Local

To effectively evaluate energy-saving measures for new residential construction and retrofits, architects and engineers need access to software that can model the economics and efficacy of such measures throughout the design process. The ResStock analysis tool, built on the free NREL-created OpenStudio platform, is geared at modeling residential building stock for national, regional, or local analysis using DOE's EnergyPlus, a whole-building energy simulation program for gauging energy and water use. This innovative software solution makes energy modeling more accessible and affordable, helping building professionals design homes that consume less energy, saving homeowners money and strengthening the U.S. economy.

A photo of measurements inside a wind tunnel.

Turbine Fulfills Lifelong Dream at World's Largest Wind Tunnel

When you need to compare wind turbine model predictions with measured behavior, it's time for a road trip. Researchers from NREL drove a wind turbine with a 10-meter diameter wing span from Golden, Colorado, to NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California—and back—to find answers. While visiting the world's largest wind tunnel in 2000, they gathered data sets from more than 1,700 different inspection scenarios for their Unsteady Aerodynamics Experiment. This data set has an amazing longevity, being heavily used for leading research for more than 15 years.

A photo of a NREL researcher with a solar measurement technology.

Cell Performance: Test. Validate. Repeat.

That's what NREL has been doing for 40 years on tens of thousands of samples, representing a couple dozen solar cell technologies. You name it—silicon, high-efficiency multijunction, thin-film, or emerging solar cells such as perovskite or quantum dots—and NREL provides reliable, unbiased testing, measurements, and validation of how well these technologies perform under standard conditions. NREL is one of only a handful of labs worldwide that can do this. Accurately measuring the performance of solar cells and modules helps researchers assess technical designs and compare technologies, and allows investors and consumers to make more informed decisions. We're the gold standard for solar cell testing.

A photo of a wind turbine blade tested with weights.

Wind Turbine Testing: A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On

A wind turbine that spins all day, every day will rotate more than 150 million times over the course of its lifetime. How can we be sure that it won't tire out? NREL's National Wind Technology Center has been answering that question since the early 1980s. State-of-the-art servo-hydraulic equipment in NREL’s research facilities can mimic 20 years of wear to a gear box in a few months. Blade inspection methods use the natural vibration modes of the blade itself to enable vigorous shaking of blades about as big as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Duplicated in research facilities around the world, these techniques have been applied to every certified turbine operating globally.

A photo of a glass container with clear liquid.

Making Nonrenewable Energy From Renewables

Scientists have looked at everything under the sun to figure out how to store renewable energy for use when people need it most. Turns out, the answer may be part solar, part wind, and part water. NREL and utility company Xcel Energy can use wind or solar power to split water molecules into usable hydrogen fuel. The Wind-to-Hydrogen project is fueling fuel cell electric vehicles used on NREL's campus with wind that was blowing across the Rocky Mountains just weeks before. Perhaps the answer to long-term clean energy storage really is blowing in the wind.

A photo of four people discussing charts on a large screen.

Distributed Energy National Leadership: Interconnecting Standards

NREL led the development of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 1547 standard, the national interconnection standard for distributed resources. This important standard allowed simplified interconnection to all generation and storage connected at the distribution level and had over 450 people from industry, academia, and government in the working group. What was once a hodgepodge of utility regulations was standardized across the U.S. and allowed PV and other distributed generation to flourish. Distributed PV has taken off so much in recent years, that new updates to the standard are currently under review that would allow active participation in these devices to increase grid stability and reliability.

A photo of three men touching a wind turbine blade.

NREL Ushers in Designer Wind Turbine Airfoils

Every wing has an airfoil, which is a fancy word for the shape of the wing's cross-section. But until 1984, when NREL developed the first airfoils designed specifically for wind energy applications, the industry relied on airfoils designed for airplanes. This caused poor turbine performance, thanks to the fact that wind turbine blades operate in constant turbulence near the ground where bugs and dirt come into play. Now, wind turbine manufacturers worldwide follow NREL's lead by designing their own airfoils, and turbine performance levels have increased dramatically.

A photo of many hands holding up a trophy.

Inspiring Innovation: Building the Leaders of Tomorrow

NREL has been an innovator in university competitions to spur market transformation. These include the Race to Zero Student Design Competition and the Collegiate Wind Competition. These DOE workforce development initiatives were built on NREL's success leading the Solar Decathlon and Sunrayce, a solar car race in the 1990s. All of these competitions are proven training programs for students launching careers in the clean-energy workforce. NREL conducted the first seven Solar Decathlons. This project involved 130 collegiate (20,000 college students) teams to design and build energy-efficient, solar-powered houses; expanded to Europe, China, Latin America, and the Middle East to involve an additional 94 teams and 12,000 participants; and educated the public through exhibits and widespread media coverage and harnessing digital tools to reach millions of people.

A photo of two NREL researchers reviewing a U.S. map on a computer screen.

Compass Points to the Future: NREL Map Leadership

Without a map, how would we know where we are going? NREL's leadership in resource mapping has provided a powerful pathway to ensuring renewable technologies are successfully deployed at speed and scale. These visualization tools have helped policymakers, researchers, and industry partners analyze resources and other important technology deployment factors—ensuring our technologies have an impact.

A photo of the Open EI website interface.

Take a Peek: Open Access to Energy Data

The Open Energy Information initiative is a free, open-source, knowledge-sharing platform. A vast amount of energy-related data is generated throughout the world, but historically, access to this data has been difficult and limited. To address this issue, NREL analysts created a collaborative web platform called OpenEI.

Two men looking at graphs on computer screens.

Wrangling Standards Into the Wild West of Wind

Forty years ago, the U.S. wind energy was a Wild West show of innovative machines that often simply didn't survive more than a few months. To lasso this rodeo, NREL got together with international partners to develop a set of objective design standards and requirements that ensured any machine built, no matter how innovative, would be able to withstand the rigors of its environment. Reliability levels have taken off since.

A group of men and women in a solar farm

Leveraging Other People's Money

NREL was a key force in establishing and developing performance contracting programs managed by DOE's Federal Energy Management Program. Since 1993, projects procured using performance contracting have leveraged $6.6 billion of non-DOE investment to improve federal energy systems. Resulting projects have provided a local economic stimulus, improved the operational resilience of federal infrastructure and lowered federal energy costs, enabling agencies to better direct appropriations toward their missions.