Reaching Out: NREL Community Connection

Welcome to the Summer 2021 Reaching Out: NREL Community Connection Newsletter.

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In this Edition

NREL's New Facility: RAIL

NREL Volunteer Spotlights

Welcoming the Energy Secretary

NRELians Giving Back

Information on NREL's Virtual Tours, Education Programs, and Story Times

Looking Ahead: A New Addition to the NREL Campus

NREL's South Table Mountain Campus will soon welcome an exciting addition in the form of a new research lab. The 15,700-ft2 Research and Innovation Laboratory (RAIL) will provide multipurpose lab space for cross-disciplinary research at the intersection of chemistry, materials science, bioscience, and engineering in support of a breadth of energy efficiency and renewable energy research areas. 

NREL recently announced that Mortenson will build the RAIL facility, and the project is expected to break ground in September 2021. 

The RAIL facility design will include energy-efficient technologies such as heat recovery evaporative cooling and infrastructure to support future renewable technologies. The electrical infrastructure will additionally accommodate a future microgrid, allowing the building to run from completely renewable sources in the future. This facility will be the first of its kind on the NREL campus. 

NREL Stands Out in the Community

Working Together To Keep Our Community Safe

Smiling faces gleamed with gratitude during the COVID-19 vaccine clinics at NREL this past spring.

From March to May 2021, Jefferson County and NREL partnered to distribute COVID-19 vaccines targeting underserved public populations and limited NREL staff. By May, 7,397 doses were distributed to Coloradans from Arvada to Evergreen. The clinics were held at NREL's parking garage on the South Table Mountain campus. Thanks to the efforts and coordination of NREL staff, the process of giving and receiving the vaccine was seamless.

Volunteers consisted of NREL employees, Jefferson County employees, nurses, doctors, and members of the National Guard.

“I enjoyed seeing how happy those getting their vaccines were. It was great to see car after car were filled with people waving and giving a thumbs up. Everybody was so grateful for the opportunity to receive their COVID vaccines,” said Sarah Murphy, senior space planner for Site Operations. “And for me, personally, it was such a boost after being so closed off from the social world I was used to prior to the pandemic.”

NREL Welcomes the Energy Secretary

NREL was honored to virtually host U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm on July 15, which allowed NREL leadership to highlight the laboratory’s key research areas and the advances in renewable energy, including wind and solar technology. The secretary also had the opportunity to speak with NREL researchers and staff and convey how important the laboratory is to achieving the administration's energy goals. We look forward to when we can host the secretary in person!

In the meantime, you, too, are encouraged to learn how NREL's researchers are working diligently to address climate change, cyber threats, energy inequality, environmental justice, and more, by visiting

Giving Updates

Dedication to an Equitable Renewable Future

“Being a responsible community partner is a top priority for NREL,” said Jen Kurtz, NREL’s Energy Conversion and Storage Systems Center director and the newest co-chair of the NREL Giving Program. “Through our community investment, the lab strengthens existing shareholder bonds; supports diversity, equity, and inclusion causes; and provides education opportunities in the STEM field."

Most recently, NREL lent support to our partners at GRID Alternatives, a long-time partner of the laboratory. According to its website, “GRID Alternatives Colorado installs rooftop, community, and multifamily solar electric systems for income-qualified households and affordable-housing providers throughout the state, providing families with needed savings and training Colorado workers for jobs in the growing solar industry.” 

“GRID Alternatives is committed to providing opportunities for community members who face systemic barriers to employment access the skills and experience necessary to find stable, living-wage jobs in the solar industry," said Cameron Patterson, development officer for the organization. “This year, NREL is a sponsor of the June 2021 Installation Basics Training. This is one of five paid programs that combine classroom, hands-on, and real-world solar install training to ensure trainees have the skills to become full-time solar installers. We are immensely grateful for the support.”

The benefits are mutual. Through this partnership, NREL also provides an opportunity for NREL staff to volunteer and participate in a workday, where employees join the trainees on their installation site and get hands-on experience in the field. “Access to renewable jobs is a major aspect of equitable energy access, and NREL is proud to be associated with GRID Alternatives and demonstrate its dedication to an equitable renewable future,” said Tom Foust, Catalytic Carbon Transformation and Scale-Up Center director, who serves his second term as a co-chair this year.

Proud Partner of Community Shares

NREL is also a proud Visionary Sponsor of the Community Shares 35 Hours of Giving in honor of the agency’s 35th anniversary event. “Having NREL by our side as a sponsor for 35 Hours of Giving was really important to us,” said Erin Atwell, CEO of Community Shares of Colorado. “It was an untried fundraising idea, and NREL didn’t hesitate to support something innovative, which says a lot about NREL always looking to new horizons. Also, NREL is such a key part of our past and present, so celebrating where we’ve been and where we are now with NREL was very symbolic and meaningful. As we work with NREL to prepare for another fall campaign, Community Shares is excited for what the future holds and all the energy and inspiration NRELians bring to supporting the community.”

NREL and Community Shares have a long history partnering to better those in need. Originally called The Alternative Fund, the organization gave a home to nonprofit organizations that did not fit the mold of existing workplace giving federations. Soon after, the founders chose the name "Community Shares of Colorado" and began actively working to expand charitable choice in workplace giving campaigns. 

“Over the years, NREL has been partnering with Community Shares to ensure NRELians have the opportunity to connect with and support diverse organizations, including grassroots nonprofits and a myriad of issue areas such as social justice, respect for all individuals, environmental conservation, and community-owned arts,” said Dan Beckley, Facilities and Operations associate laboratory director, who also serves a second term as co-chair. “The NREL Giving Program is designed so each NRELian can support the causes they are most passionate about, and Community Shares certainly provides an opportunity to do that. Giving unites us as an NREL family, building and investing in our future by supporting our community, and we appreciate the partnership.”

NRELians Volunteer and Stand Out

A group photo of Byron Tatum and the softball team he coaches

Byron Tatum, a Human Resources associate, is a beloved volunteer softball coach through the City of Aurora youth sports program. Byron and his wife coach 12- to 14-year-olds and are excited to be back on the field after the sporting programs were postponed last year. Byron did not know what he was getting into eight years ago when he volunteered to help a friend coach his daughter’s softball team. Coaching has been a surprising blessing.

“My favorite part is when you get kids who have never played, and you try to teach them everything they’ll need to know,” he said. “There is a moment when the light comes on and they do something they didn’t even think they could do.” Byron keeps in touch with many of his former athletes and loves when they check in years after their last game.

Nicole Mendoza standing in grasslands holding vegetation

Nicole Mendoza, a senior researcher in the National Wind Technology Center, has been volunteering since she was in high school. Her passion for environmental causes inspired her to pursue volunteer efforts focused on saving the planet and promoting good stewardship. Since 2018, Nicole has been heavily involved with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers (WRV), a nonprofit focused on ecological restoration work on the Front Range and adjacent counties. Since starting at WRV, Nicole has participated in a variety of restoration work including building trails, removing invasive plant species, erosion control, and planting and seeding native plants. Her favorite type of volunteer project is improving animal habitats, reducing erosion, and replanting native species on riverbanks.

“It’s amazing to see everyone working together,” Nicole said. “On a project, we mobilize 20–30 volunteers to all move in the same direction, work together, and accomplish the same goals. It’s a positive experience for everyone.” Nicole volunteers on roughly 10–15 projects a year, donates to WRV each year, and is actively engaged with WRV’s growing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Liz Craig and two volunteers pose with construction tools outside of a housing structure

Liz Craig, a designer in the NREL Communications Office, has recently been exploring more volunteer opportunities to give back to her community. In 2019, Liz started participating in the Read to Me Program through NREL by reading books to children at an elementary school in Golden. In January, she volunteered at a Habitat for Humanity house in Boulder. She helped with the Palo Parkway build and had the opportunity to work alongside the woman who will live in the house with her family. Liz also volunteered at a Salud Family Health Center and helped with their COVID-19 vaccine clinics. She directed traffic and talked with patients while they waited after their vaccines. 

“During COVID, I had a feeling of helplessness,” Liz said. “Volunteering was some action I could take to change things. I was really happy to help people get vaccinated in Colorado.” Liz is looking forward to continuing her volunteer efforts over the next few months as opportunities reopen.

Reaching Out to Our Community

Interested in Participating in NREL's Student Programs?

NREL's education programs for K–12 students promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) using clean energy technologies to capture student interest. If you know any teachers or community organization leaders who might be interested in participating in one of our student programs, please have them contact the NREL Education Team.

Mark Your Calendars for a Tour on the Green Side!

Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021 – Metro Green Homes Tour
Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 – Chaffee County Salida Green Homes Tour
Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021 – Chaffee County Buena Vista Green Homes Tour

Curious about how Colorado homeowners are saving money and resources while helping to slow the effects of global climate change? Take the 26th annual Metro Denver Green Homes Tour and visit a variety of homes to see firsthand what individuals can do to create pleasing high-performance home environments.

NREL and the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour have been inextricably linked since the tour was first started by SERI in 1981. It was initially run by New Energy Colorado and Colorado Renewable Energy Society since 2013. During the last 20 years, NREL has played a critical role in the success of this annual event, providing funding and critical expertise each year.