Carbon-Neutral Future Unites NREL, Sempra Energy in Partnership

Shared Vision for Access to Affordable, Reliable, Secure Energy for All

June 23, 2021

Landscape of desert mountains, clouds and rainbow with solar panels in foreground
Sempra Energy’s California utility San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (SDG&E) and NREL collaborated to establish the nation’s first utility-owned community microgrid in Borrego Springs, California. Photo courtesy of Sempra Energy

Does a decade sound like enough time to accomplish something unprecedented?

For a young U.S. space program in 1961, President Kennedy's imperative to put a man safely on the moon within the decade conjured inspiration and uncertainty. Yet Americans from different walks of life joined together to make Neil Armstrong's "giant leap for mankind" a reality in 1969.

A similar ambition unites us again in 2021, with President Biden pledging to slash the nation's greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. Strategic partnerships across industries have prepared the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to meet this call to action.

NREL and Sempra Energy are now leveraging a decade of successful collaborative work to target global carbon neutrality.

Key Synergies Across Power, Fuel, Industrial Sectors

NREL and Sempra Energy's cooperative, multiyear projects exploring low-carbon fuels and microgrid technology have reaped success—including some groundbreaking achievements.

In 2013, Sempra Energy subsidiary San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and NREL established the nation's first utility-owned community microgrid in Borrego Springs, California. In 2017, Sempra Energy subsidiary Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) and NREL partnered to create, validate, and integrate the nation's first carbon-free, power-to-gas pilot system. In 2019, NREL and partners SoCalGas and Electrochaea joined to dedicate the nation's first hydrogen-to-methane bioreactor.

Now, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in June 2021 formalizes a joint effort by NREL and Sempra Energy to continue advancing clean energy systems. It is designed to foster technical and scientific collaboration among both organizations, aligning their independent commitments to mutual goals.

Under the MOU, Sempra Energy and NREL will coordinate and share objectives focused on:

  • Advancing artificial intelligence to scale solutions across the United States and enable cities to reach clean energy goals
  • Integrating low-carbon fuel solutions, including hydrogen, renewable natural gas, carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration, and fuel cells
  • Exploring innovative solutions towards 100% renewable energy communities requiring and implementing smart and enhanced controls, integration, and operational capabilities as a blueprint for expansion
  • Future-proofing electric grids with technology that upgrades the infrastructure with a focus on reliability, connectivity, and security
  • Promoting viable net-zero solutions that are delivered with equity and widespread community access.

As an energy infrastructure company, Sempra Energy serves over 36 million electric and natural gas consumers worldwide through its affiliates in California, Texas, and Mexico, and its liquified natural gas exports.

A shared vision to achieve a carbon-neutral future that prioritizes secure and equitable energy access has united both organizations.

"Our partnership with NREL drives forward a vision to advance the energy systems of the future by focusing on innovation and resiliency," said Lisa Alexander, senior vice president of corporate affairs and chief sustainability officer for Sempra Energy. "New investment and innovative partnerships are critical to developing solutions that will manifest a global energy transition while promoting economic growth and prosperity."

"Building on our strong history of collaboration, we are excited to accelerate our work with Sempra to advance clean energy solutions," said Doug Arent, executive director for strategic public–private partnerships at NREL. "Researching key synergies across power, low-carbon fuels, and industrial sectors are expected to provide critical innovations toward realizing a low-carbon, equitable, affordable, secure, and reliable energy economy."

Fresh Insights To Secure, Equitable Energy Transformation

NREL's continual pursuit of industry partnerships remains a critical key on the path to a reliable and prosperous clean energy future.

Energy Systems Integration Associate Laboratory Director Juan Torres recently testified before Congress on the importance of a secure and resilient energy grid and how industry collaborations will help us achieve those goals.

"Our greatest capabilities to establish energy system resilience already exist: They are the combined national lab network, NREL's state-of-the-art ARIES research platform for integrated large-scale studies, and an engaged group of industry collaborators who are pushing the frontier of energy innovations," Torres said in his prepared statement. "Still, we've only just opened the door to many new research directions."

NREL continues to actively explore those new directions through its Partner Forums, which bring organizations together to align goals and set the stage for years of introductory and follow-on projects. Making clean energy systems reliable and resilient will require innovative technologies and thoughtful integration approaches that are flexible and secure from cyber threats—the topic of NREL's most recent Partner Forum held on June 8, 2021.

United States from space at night.

Read more about how NREL is developing solutions to transform the way we generate, consume, store, and distribute energy.

Making clean energy accessible and affordable for everyone will require an equity-based framework much like the approach leveraged in NREL's previous and ongoing work as well.

Economic and public health opportunities are not being overlooked, either. Regional and industrial hubs that cannot be electrified will not fall by the wayside. Sempra Energy and NREL, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, will aim for significant emissions reductions in industrial sectors, while simultaneously maintaining productivity, creating jobs, and fostering healthier communities.

This has been the domain of NREL's work for many years and remains a top priority in the face of future demands. And we know we cannot do it alone. As NREL looks ahead in its 10-year strategic plan, strategic partnerships will continue to serve a vital role in order to achieve our critical objectives.

Read more about NREL's breadth of experience with partners spanning industry, government agencies, and research and nonprofit organizations.