NREL Helps Agencies Target New Federal Sustainability Goals
Agencies are seeking support from NREL for its analysis capabilities, technical and financial modeling tools, and expertise helping bring energy projects to fruition.
With last year's Executive Order (EO) 13693, "Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade," President Obama issued firm goals for federal agencies to get at least 30% of their electricity from renewable sources, and 25% of federal facility energy from "clean" sources by 2025. Though the current overall percent of electricity from renewable sources used by the federal government is 8.8%, the number on a per-agency basis fluctuates greatly. Much work needs to be done as some agencies did not reach the 7.5% by 2013 statutory renewable energy goal. To define the pathways to meet the EO goals, agencies are seeking support from NREL with its analysis capabilities, technical and financial modeling tools, and expertise helping develop energy projects.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) and the Navy are two good examples.
Planning for the Thousands
NREL is assisting FEMP with planning that involves more than 7,000 federal facilities across the country. "To meet the 30% electric goal for these buildings, on PV alone—9,500 megawatts—it would take almost all the PV that was sold in the United States in 2015," says Andy Walker, principal engineer. "We're thinking, 'What are the projects that are going to get us to that [EO] goal?'"
Walker and his team have leveraged geospatial data on more than 7,000 federal facilities across the country. After determining which renewable energy project opportunities are cost-effective in each market and identifying drivers (i.e., high utility rates, local incentives, a robust solar industry, etc.), "we help answer questions like, 'Should this agency purchase a renewable electricity system outright or look into alternative financing agreements?'" he explains.
There are many considerations for this kind of analysis, including renewable resources, available space, utility energy costs, incentives, and financing mechanisms, to name a few. With a huge number of prospective projects, the opportunities need to be prioritized. That's where REopt comes in. NREL's REopt energy systems integration and optimization tool can be used to evaluate the combination of technology types and sizes that minimize energy cost and achieve various energy goals. "By taking a methodical planning approach, we can explore options that reduce overall costs of meeting this goal," said Walker. Once the top opportunities are identified, more detailed REopt analysis is conducted to refine technology types, sizes, and operating strategies to maximize economic return and achieve client energy goals, such as renewable energy targets or energy resiliency.
From there, NREL helps agencies take advantage of private-sector financing options like power purchase agreements. One way to make progress on so many potential projects is to consider aggregating procurements. An example is the NREL-assisted Capital Solar Challenge, launched in 2014, which combined 18 buildings in Washington, D.C., into one General Services Administration contract.
The lab's technical assistance service reviews thousands of possible projects, but for select, strategic opportunities, NREL makes site visits, assesses specific site conditions, evaluates the electric system, prepares a feasibility study, and does design review, among other things. "We get a lot of requests through the technical assistance portal," Walker noted. They're usually from smaller civilian agencies, which may also need more help in planning, but NREL contributes even to the larger defense agencies that have their own planning programs. "They rely on NREL geospatial data and REopt results," he confirmed.
NREL even has advisors embedded in federal agencies. Mike Hillesheim, senior engineer, for instance, is in Norfolk, Virginia, with the Department of Navy's (DON) Renewable Energy Program Office (REPO). Recently, Mike and his team made recommendations for four specific projects at six naval air stations and one auxiliary landing field totaling approximately 450 megawatts. "This is another great testimonial to the REPO team. There is nothing as convincing as objective data and analysis to educate and convince key players about the benefits of renewable energy," said Dennis McGinn, assistant secretary of the Navy – Energy, Installations, & Environment.
The NREL support team addressed a variety of barriers to PV siting near naval airfields. "This was an effort where NREL took the initiative and completed sound analyses that ultimately removed development hurdles for the Navy," said Hillesheim.
And the Navy is serious about meeting renewable energy project development goals. The technical analyses conducted by NREL in support of developing large-scale renewable energy projects on Navy lands helped them to achieve, and even exceed, their 1-gigawatt goal in an unprecedented timeframe (from a Navy directive to finish in less than two years). The Navy started with a long list of hundreds of megawatts of renewable energy projects that were initially screened and then developed with NREL support.
"This is what makes us proud to work at NREL—the quality of the analysis and the clear way it was communicated," said Jeff Dominick, lab program manager for Strategic Partnerships.
The sense of pride comes from the fact that NREL is being sought out for reliable, unbiased technical analysis and project guidance in support of federal agencies as they seek to meet EO targets and energy goals. "The breadth and depth of NREL is unmatched," said Mike Callahan, senior advisor, who is embedded at Pearl Harbor with the DON's REPO. "We have dedicated subject matter experts in such a wide array of energy topic areas that we can help agencies develop and implement comprehensive solutions to their energy challenges, whatever they might be. NREL continues to build on its deep experience, helping all federal agencies more effectively reach our nation's energy goals."