Clean Energy to Communities Program: In-Depth Partnerships

Through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Clean Energy to Communities (C2C) program, NREL offers in-depth technical partnerships that support communities in developing secure, reliable, resilient, and affordable clean energy systems.

Illustration of molecules connected together in a star-shaped pattern.
In-depth technical partnerships help communities develop a realistic, validated plan to put clean energy ambitions into action and address key energy challenges. These partnerships offer teams—composed of local government, community-based organizations, and electric utilities and other key organizations that can represent the community—the chance to work alongside national laboratory staff as they apply robust modeling and analysis tools and conduct hardware-in-the-loop testing of solutions adapted to the community’s unique conditions and contexts. This multiyear partnership will allow local decision makers to evaluate and test potential scenarios and strategies in their energy transition before full technology deployment, lowering risks to implementation.

Communities selected for in-depth partnerships will have:

  • A dedicated point of contact within the national lab system
  • Direct grant funding to support hiring staff or consultants
  • Facilitation and community engagement support
  • Extensive technical support from the DOE national laboratory complex.

C2C program in-depth technical partnerships will focus broadly on cross-sectoral issues related to renewable energy, mobility, and buildings. Energy security, resilience, and disaster preparedness—as well as energy equity and environmental justice—will be considered, too.

Technical Partnership Types and Eligibility

Two to three C2C in-depth partnerships will focus on clean energy topics. There will also be two Energyshed in-depth partnerships: one focused on a rural community and one focused on a metropolitan community.

Partnership Types At-a-Glance
  C2C In-Depth Partnerships Energyshed – Rural Energyshed – Metro
Eligible Communities All community types Rural communities Metropolitan communities
Eligible Applicants Community teams consisting of representatives from local government, community-based organizations, and electric utilities*
Additional Stakeholders Additional stakeholders who are not part of the applying team can submit letters of support and will be considered during evaluation. These stakeholders can include, but are not limited to, universities, trade organizations, and regional planning organizations. Strong submissions will include the necessary (additional) stakeholders to address the stated community challenges and priorities.
Number of Awards 2–3 awards 1 award 1 award
Technical Assistance Offered Expert advice, technical guidance, best practices, world-leading analytical tools, and access to the Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems (ARIES) research platform, hardware-in-the-loop demonstration platform, and virtual emulation environment
Funding Amount ("Subcontracting Funding") $500,000 in subcontracting funding $3 million in subcontracting funding $3 million in subcontracting funding
Eligible Activities for Subcontracting Funding Support staff time and participation, hire additional staff, and support community engagement activities Support staff time and participation, hire additional staff, support community engagement activities, and purchase clean energy infrastructure/technology to support findings from the technical assistance research

*For Energyshed, the project scope must include multiple connected geographic areas, communities, utilities, coordinating bodies, or jurisdictions. Those entities that constitute the Energyshed should be represented, as appropriate, by the organizations within the applying community team. The resulting team composition should ensure (1) representation of all perspectives from relevant entities in the Energyshed, (2) relevant technical knowledge, and (3) relevant decision-making authority within the applicable study area and topics.

Timeline

NREL has released a pre-solicitation for in-depth technical partnerships. The full application is expected to open in mid-February.

Join program experts on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 1 p.m. Mountain Time to learn more about the C2C program and in-depth partnership support. Register to attend the webinar.

Frequently Asked Questions

Topics eligible for support through an in-depth technical partnerships could include but are not limited to:

  • How might demand for electricity change with more adoption of energy technologies such as electric vehicles and rooftop solar?
  • Does reaching clean energy goals mean big changes locally—such as building new transmission lines or power plants?
  • How can a community make sure that the new system is reliable under extreme events such as fires and heat waves?
  • What does achieving clean energy goals mean for jobs, air quality, health, the local economy, and environmental justice?
  • What are the costs of a clean electricity grid in the region, and what are the quantified benefits?

The Energyshed concept is similar to that of a watershed. Energyshed considers energy loads, sources of generation, and transmission and distribution networks within a broader footprint. Similar to a watershed, an Energyshed includes multiple connected geographic areas, communities, utilities, coordinating bodies, or jurisdictions. Energyshed represents a valuable framework for considering how to achieve locally driven clean energy goals. Energyshed allows consideration of both community-specific needs and challenges as well as the broader energy landscape. It can also illustrate and improve how benefits and impacts of energy systems are shared across and between geographical areas, ultimately leading to more resilient, affordable, and equitable decarbonized energy systems.

The in-depth partnerships using an Energyshed focus bring the benefits of the general in-depth partnerships but with an emphasis on addressing challenges unique to two specific geographies.

Rural communities face energy challenges that are often distinct from areas of greater population density. Population decline, rapid changes in the energy landscape, and infrastructure miles needed to serve relatively small populations create unique conditions for long-term, regional energy planning. This partnership seeks to better understand and address these issues for a specific rural region.

Metro areas across the U.S. are seeing rapid changes in energy generation and use—from rapid electrification of buildings and transportation to increasing deployment of rooftop solar and other distributed energy resources. These advancements are changing the characteristics of local electricity grids and the resources needed to manage them. Efficiently and equitably modernizing these systems involves decision-making across multiple, often overlapping, jurisdictions. This partnership seeks to better understand and address these issues for a metro-area region, with a focus on ensuring that benefits of a cost-effective, resilient grid are equally distributed across the community.

Topics of interest include but are not limited to:

  • Integrated planning assessment (looking out 10–20 years) with a cross-sectoral approach that jointly considers grid, mobility, and buildings (including electrification of transportation and buildings) across the bulk and distribution systems as well as hardware validation
  • Procedural and distributional justice related to energy siting in rural areas, or other elements related to energy equity and energy justice, that are embedded within a technical assessment of future Energyshed systems.

Topics of interest include but are not limited to:

  • Development of strategies to ensure resilience and reliability of building systems to withstand events such as natural disasters so that communities may safely ride out service interruptions
  • Development of visualization dashboards to demonstrate energy interactions across multiple energy sectors (grid, transportation, and buildings) in a metro area
  • Emulation of a community grid, including thousands of connected devices, to understand and demonstrate different communication and control strategies (This emulation could include real-time pricing and weather impacts to understand responsive demand.)
  • Analysis of rate design for grid benefits and energy equity, with consideration of the distribution of benefits across jurisdictional boundaries 
  • Distribution grid operational planning, including demand response and distributed energy resources
  • Distribution system controls design and validation, including device-level controls of distributed energy resources
  • Development of strategies to decarbonize the building sector through a combination of energy efficiency measures; electrification of end uses; demand-side management; and distributed energy resources such as solar power, battery storage, and building control systems.

Success Story

C2C worked with Golden Valley Electric Association in Fairbanks, Alaska, to evaluate and de-risk its transition to clean energy options in a partnership that helped shape the current in-depth partnership offering.

Other Program Support

See the C2C program offerings.

Sign up for C2C email updates to be notified when the request for proposals is posted or other program applications open.

Contact

If you have questions about the in-depth partnerships or the C2C program, email C2C@nrel.gov.