Partnering: An Engine for Innovation
Collaborative research truly is an engine for innovation. While the term "partnership" may seem straightforward, there are actually many ways in which the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) engages in research with the public and private sectors.
Some ways we partner include:
- Agreements with leading companies such as Toyota, which came to the lab to access cutting-edge electric vehicle technology, or Verizon, which sought the lab's expertise in designing photovoltaic cellular towers.
- Connections with NREL alumni who licensed a technology from the lab and use our expertise and facilities to pursue breakthroughs with us.
- Formation of hybrid agreements as in the case of NREL and HP. NREL set requirements, and then the lab and HP collaborated on the development of the Energy Systems Integration Facility's (ESIF) highly efficient high-performance computer, which HP has since launched as a new product offering.
- Assistance to government or nonprofit organizations, such as the California Energy Commission, which is leveraging NREL's deep knowledge in transportation to help meet emission reduction goals.
- NREL researchers or teams who innovate and find startup companies willing to back a novel idea.
Our newest tool is the Agreement for Commercializing Technology (ACT)—a pilot program launched by DOE that gives labs and their partners more flexibility in crafting agreements. NREL and the Wells Fargo Foundation are partnering under ACT to provide buildings related technologies to Wells as part of a $10 million, five-year agreement. This partnership will also enable the Wells Fargo Foundation, through its Innovation Incubator (IN2) program, to provide funding and support to innovative renewable energy and efficiency startup companies.
In the past year, NREL had more than 650 active agreements with entities beyond DOE, including industry, government, academia, small businesses, and international and nonprofit organizations. The lab also signed more than 240 new agreements to partner with federal agencies and non-federal entities.
Of course, NREL benefits in many ways from engagements with public and private entities. We assess market needs and trends, and get direct feedback about problems and opportunities, helping inform our research agenda. This close connection to the marketplace enables us to ensure that our research is relevant and that the insights and technologies we develop can be more easily adopted and commercialized.
This issue of Continuum highlights the many ways NREL partners with private industry and other research institutions. You will find references to many of the partnerships I've mentioned and examples of the scope of our engagement with industry leaders, government organizations, and startups.
We are proud of our partnerships—and the impact they are having on our mission to be DOE's innovation engine for renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.