Innovation Across the Clean Energy Spectrum
Visitors touring the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are often amazed at the scope of our research and the depth of our engagement with private industry.
From our humble beginnings 35 years ago as the Solar Energy Research Institute, today NREL pursues research across a broad range of renewable energy and energy efficiency sources. As our scientific exploration expanded, so did our effort to develop, test, and validate new technologies. We began collaborating with private industry, from small entrepreneurial companies to large established businesses, to commercialize our scientific breakthroughs and to help them achieve production-ready products and manufacturing processes. This "market-relevant" research required an in-depth understanding of the factors affecting market adoption, leading to the development of a distinctive NREL competency in strategic energy analysis.
By design, NREL plays a critical role across the spectrum of clean energy innovation.
This issue of Continuum magazine illustrates the breadth of innovation at NREL — from our scientific exploration into more efficient solar-cell materials and complex wind-farm computer modeling — to inventing a more efficient air conditioning system and assisting a tornado-ravaged town to rebuild using the latest sustainable energy and efficiency techniques.
As the nation's only national laboratory dedicated solely to renewable energy and efficiency, NREL acts as an innovation catalyst for private industry by reducing risk and encouraging private investment in promising new products and companies. Guiding new technologies from initial concept through commercial application requires comprehensive capabilities and expertise across the innovation spectrum, from fundamental science and market-relevant research to systems engineering and validation; and through commercialization and deployment.
Federal support to transform our nation's energy systems is critical because it is one of the greatest challenges facing our nation today, with market conditions unlike any other. Our nation's electrical grid, transportation, and fuel supply systems, are highly regulated and largely constructed with technology developed more than 100 years ago. These challenges present significant barriers for new technologies and explain why private investment in energy-related research lags compared to other major market segments such as pharmaceuticals and telecommunications by a factor of ten to one.
This underscores the importance of the research we perform here at NREL, and of the public-private partnerships we enable. Our focus across the spectrum of clean-energy innovation ensures that new technologies move rapidly from the laboratory into the marketplace, delivering clean energy solutions to the nation.