NREL’s Vision (Text Version)

This is the text version of the video describing NREL’s strategic vision and key research areas.

Every year, the worldwide population increases by more than 82 million people.

That’s equivalent to 16,500 babies being born every hour, across the globe.

This rate of growth is straining our ecosystem and creating vulnerabilities.

And as our global energy use is expected to increase another 28% by 2040, we must ensure our energy sources are not only safe, secure, and reliable, but that a continued focus on the mitigation of emissions remains.

These are very real trends that we need to ensure we are prepared for. 

Identifying our nation’s biggest energy challenges—like the impact population growth and energy use have on urbanization, cyberthreats, electrification, resource competition, and more—is just one area the National Renewable Energy Laboratory studies.

And we are working to transform the challenges these megatrends have on our energy infrastructure and resources into tomorrow’s solutions.

For more than 40 years, NREL’s world-class research staff has devised solutions to transform the way we generate, consume, store, and distribute energy.

And now, our leadership in these technology areas is more important than ever.

To chart a course for the future, NREL has created a vision for solving these energy challenges at home while creating opportunities worldwide.  

During the next 10 years, we are focusing our efforts on three key research areas designed to shape a highly efficient and resilient energy future.

Integrated Energy Pathways
As the future grid changes and evolves, it will incorporate more renewables, energy storage, smart loads, and many more devices that need to work together as a coordinated system.

The future grid will be too complex to operate using today’s technologies and conventional approaches. 
Integrated Energy Pathways will provide innovations to modernize our grid to support a broad selection of generation types and active participation by the consumer, and expand our options for transportation electrification.

One example is our groundbreaking work with autonomous energy grids, which uses artificial intelligence to reliably manage electricity flows, even with millions more devices being added to it.

This ensures that system operation is resilient to outages and natural disasters.

Through this work, we are charting a course toward a more resilient and responsive energy grid.

Electrons to Molecules
We also envision an energy future with low-cost electricity that can allow the manufacturing sector to produce fuels, chemicals, and other products with that electricity.

Innovations in bio-catalysis and electro-catalysis are needed to enable this transformation of our manufacturing sector.

Electrons to Molecules focuses on the use of cheap, renewable electricity (instead of fossil fuels) to convert low-energy molecules, such as water or carbon dioxide into chemicals, materials, fuels, or even energy storage.

This innovative approach both reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and drives developments in CO2 capture and conversion.

One example is our work with SoCalGas to convert excess renewable energy into pipeline-quality methane.
Through this effort, we are charting a course toward a smarter, more efficient way to produce energy.

Circular Economy for Energy Materials
A quick internet search of “landfills” or “trash in the ocean” will leave you disheartened by the state of things.

And, as the world’s population increases, these challenges will continue to grow.

As we develop technologies for our future energy system – such as wind turbines and solar panels – we need to create and use sustainable materials that can be reused and recycled in those technologies.

Circular Economy for Energy Materials focuses on reducing waste and preserving resources through the design of materials and products with reuse, recycling, and upcycling in mind from the start.

One example is our work to develop an enzyme that breaks down plastic bottles, moving scientists closer to solving the problem of an ever-growing amount of discarded plastics that take centuries to biodegrade.
Through this research, we are charting a course toward a cleaner, healthier planet.

As we face a horizon filled with both challenges and opportunities in the energy sector, we believe in transforming these challenges into tomorrow’s solutions.

Follow us online as we continue working toward a more sustainable and promising future.