National Renewable Energy Laboratory

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Coordinates: 39°44′26″N 105°09′21″W / 39.740576°N 105.155855°W / 39.740576; -105.155855

National Renewable Energy Laboratory
NREL - Golden, Colorado
Established 1974
Research Type Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
Budget $328 million (2009)[1]
Director Dan E. Arvizu
Staff 1700 (Jan 2010)[2]
Location Golden, Colorado
Operating Agency Midwest Research Institute and Battelle Memorial Institute

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), located in Golden, Colorado, is the United States' primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is a government-owned, contractor-operated facility; it is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This arrangement allows a private entity to operate the lab on behalf of the federal government under a prime contract. NREL receives funding from Congress to be applied toward research and development projects. NREL also performs research on photovoltaics (PV) under the National Center for Photovoltaics. NREL has a number of PV research capabilities including research and development, testing, and deployment. NREL's campus houses several facilities dedicated to PV research.



Established in 1974,[3][Note 1] NREL began operating in 1977 as the Solar Energy Research Institute. Under the Jimmy Carter administration, it was the recipient of a large budget and its activities went beyond research and development in solar energy as it tried to popularize knowledge about already existing technologies, like passive solar, amongst the population. During the Ronald Reagan administration, the institute's budget was cut by some 90%; many employees 'reduced in force' and the laboratory's activities were reduced to R&D. In later years, renewed interest in the energy problem improved the institute's position, but funding has fluctuated. In 2006 funding had dropped to the point that NREL was forced to lay off 32 workers.[4]

NREL was designated a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in September 1991 and its name changed to NREL. Since its inception it has been operated under contract by the Midwest Research Institute of Kansas City, Missouri.[5] Currently, NREL is managed for the DOE by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC. The Alliance was formed in 2008 as a joint venture between Battelle and MRIGlobal. Dr. Dan E. Arvizu became NREL's eighth Laboratory Director in January 2005, and currently serves as both the director of the lab and president of the Alliance.[6]

NREL is the principal research laboratory for the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which provides the majority of its funding. Other funding comes from DOE's Office of Science and Office of Electricity Transmission and Distribution.[citation needed]

NREL's areas of research and development expertise are renewable electricity, renewable fuels, integrated energy systems, and strategic energy analysis.[7]

Funding in 2009

For 2009 funding is broken down between its major groups.

  • Wind $33.9 million
  • Biofuels $35.4 million
  • Solar $72.4 million[1]

Commercialization and technology transfer

NREL works closely with a number of private partners to transfer technological developments in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies to the marketplace and social arena.[8] NREL's innovative technologies have been recognized with 39 R&D 100 Awards. The engineering and science behind these technology transfer successes and awards demonstrates NREL's commitment to a sustainable energy future.[7] The idea of technology transfer was added to the mission of NREL as a means of enhancing commercial impact and societal benefit, ultimately justifying the use of tax dollars to in part fund the projects in the lab.[9] As many of these technologies are young and often just emerging, NREL aims to reduce the risk of private sector investment and adoption of their developments.[8] Three key pieces of federal legislature laid the policy framework to enact technology transfer: The Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980, The Bayh-Dole Act or The University and Small Business Patent Procedures Act of 1980, and The Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986.[9]

Ultimately, many of the deployed technologies help mitigate the oil dependence of the United States, reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, and maintain U.S. industry competitiveness.[8] Deployment of technologies is accomplished by developing technology partnerships with private industry.[8] NREL serves as a reduced-risk platform for research, and through partnerships those advances can effectively be translated into serving the interest of both the private sector and the public sector.[8] The energy goals set by the DOE are at the forefront of the research done in the laboratory, and the research reflects the energy goals, which are designed with the interest of "U.S. industry competitiveness" in mind.[8] The challenge to achieving these goals is investment security.[10]

Part of the technology transfer process is to form partnerships that not only focus on financial security, but also to consider partners who have demonstrated core values that reflect the integrity to manage the introduction and assimilation of the technological developments.[10] NREL focuses on the core values of the partnering entity, the willingness to set and meet timely goals, dedication to transparency, and a reciprocating intent to further development.[8] Under these partnership agreements, NREL does not fund projects conducted by their private partners.[10] NREL does provide funding opportunities through their competitively placed contracts.[10] In order to form a Technology Partnership Agreement with NREL, there are essentially 11 steps:[10]

  1. Discuss the project project proposal with the appropriate NREL technical contact
  2. Determine if the project meets qualifications (separate checklist of criteria)
  3. Determine agreement type
    1. Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs)
    2. Work for others
  4. Develop statement of work
  5. Provide draft agreement
  6. Review and/or negotiate
  7. Sign agreement
  8. Review and approve
  9. Send funds
  10. Start work
  11. Manage commitment

The process is estimated to require 45 business days[10] subject to negotiations. Technology Partnership Agreements provide only the technical services of NREL.[10]

Moving further than Technology Partnership Agreements are Licensing Agreements and Nondisclosure Agreements. Licensing Agreements provide industry to market and commercialize technology developed by NREL. This type of agreement is available to any organization, regardless of size.[11] A Nondisclosure Agreement is an agreement to implement confidentiality of information for a mutually beneficial collaboration in research and development.[11]

Prior successes include the NREL and SkyFuel partnership in the next generation of solar parabolic troughs, and also the partnership between NREL scientists, Ampulse Corporation, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to create a less expensive alternative to wafer crystalline silicon solar cells.[12]

Cooperative Research and Development Agreements

A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) is a partnership between NREL and an outside company. This type of agreement protects the intellectual property of both NREL and the outside company, and allows the investing company the right to exclusive field-of-use license for any inventions that come out of the CRADA. There are two types of CRADA's. A Shared-Resource CRADA is used to "develop, advance, or commercialize an NREL project, without money changing hands."[13] The development and progress of a Shared-Resource CRADA must fit within the scope of an existing NREL project already funded by the DOE. The second type of agreement is called a "Funds-In" CRADA. It allows for the partner to pay for some or all of NREL expenses under a project, but NREL does not supply funds to the partner.[13] A specific example of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) is between NREL, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Ampulse Corporation to develop a less expensive silicon solar cell. Funding came from both parties, and the resulting processes and investigations were carried out in cooperation between the three entities (two federal and one non-federal).[12]

Work for others

NREL offers technical services to partners who require resources that are not available to them through the form of a Work-for-Others agreement. This agreement differs from CRADA's in that they are not for the purpose of performing joint research. The partner covers the entire cost of the project.[14] There are four types of Work-for-Others agreements:

  1. Interagency Agreement-Government (IAG): A partnership formed between the DOE and a second U.S. federal agency. The outside agency funds the project directly.[14]
  2. Funds-In Agreement (FIA): A non-federal entity funds the project and research conducted by NREL. In some occasions, the partner can obtain title to inventions.[14]
  3. Technical Services Agreement (TSA): A non-federal entity pays NREL for services related to an analytical problem. NREL provides consultation and basic technical assistance.[14]
  4. Analytical Services Agreement (ASA): This is a narrower, more specified version of a Technical Services Agreement. Non-federal sponsors pay for a specific analytical service performed by the lab in one of 13 different categories of testing/characterization services. It is a small-scale agreement, often dubbed a "shrink-wrap" agreement, has a maximum duration of 3 months and a maximum value of $25,000.[14]

Technology available for licensing

NREL offers licensing for many of its technologies related to energy efficiency and renewable energy development. Licensing of NREL's intellectual property is available to businesses of any size, from start-up to Fortune 500. The available technologies fall under the categories of: renewable electricity conversion and delivery systems, renewable fuels formulation and delivery, efficient and integrated energy systems, and strategic energy analysis. "NREL-developed technologies include vehicles and fuels, basic sciences, biomass, concentrating solar power, electric infrastructure systems, geothermal, hydrogen and fuel cells, photovoltaics, and wind energy."[15] NREL has a list of 33 market summaries available for licensing, and the list includes information about the descriptions of the technologies, their benefits, potential applications, and their current stage in development.[15] In addition to market summaries, NREL and the DOE hold 457 patents under the heading of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.[15]

National Center for Photovoltaics

The goals of the photovoltaics (PV) research done at NREL are to decrease the “nation's reliance on fossil-fuel generated electricity by lowering the cost of delivered electricity and improving the efficiency of PV modules and systems.”[16] Photovoltaic research at NREL is performed under the National Center for Photovoltaics (NCPV). NREL, along with Sandia National Laboratories, helps to coordinate work on PV for the NCPV with other research institutions including Brookhaven National Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology, DOE's Regional Experiment Stations; Southeast Regional Experiment Station and the Southwest Technology Development Institute. The NCPV also partners with many universities and other industry partners.[17] The National Center for Photovoltaics is part of the DOE's Solar Energy Technologies Program (STEP). STEP’s main goal is to “develop cost-competitive solar energy systems for America.” [18] The STEP program focuses funding on PV solar and concentrating solar because they feel that they have the greatest potential to be cost-competitive by 2015.[18] In 2010, STEP spent over $128 million on PV research and development.[19]

The lab maintains a number of research partnerships for PV research. Some examples include partnerships with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Western Governors' Association Solar Energy Task Force.[20]


NREL uses its expertise in the areas of research and development, testing and evaluation, and deployment to achieve its goals when it comes to PV research.[16] Research at NREL includes cutting edge research on all aspects of solar panel technology, with the overall goal to increase the cost-competitiveness of PV. Research done at NREL is divided into three main categories: research and development, testing, deployment.[citation needed]

Research and development

Some of the areas of PV R&D include the physical properties of PV panels, performance and reliability of PV, junction formation, and research into photo-electrochemical materials. NREL partners with both industry and academia to "investigate properties and operating mechanisms of cell materials and devices."[21] Through this research, NREL hopes to surpass current technologies in efficiency and cost-competitiveness and reach the overall goal of generating electricity at $0.06/kWh for grid-tied PV systems.[21]

NREL identifies the following as cornerstones to its PV R&D program:the High-Performance Photovoltaics Project, the Thin-Film Partnership, and the PV Manufacturing R&D Project. [22]

The High-Performance Photovoltaics Project aims to double the conversion efficiency of solar PV panels by analyzing a broad set of complex technical issues. In doing so, they hope to create working prototypes of these high-efficiency PV panels.[23] The Thin Film Partnership Program at NREL coordinates national research teams of manufacturers, academics, and NREL scientists on a variety of subjects relating to thin-film PV. The research areas of the Thin Film Partnership Program include amorphous silicon (a-Si), copper indium diselenide (CuInSe2 or CIS) and, cadmium telluride (CdTe), and module reliability.[24]

NREL's PV Manufacturing Research and Development Project is an ongoing partnership between NREL and private sector solar manufacturing companies. It started in 1991 as the Photovoltaic Manufacturing Technology (PVMaT) project and was extended and renamed in 2001 due to its success as a project. The overall goal of research done under the PV Manufacturing R&D Project is to help maintain a strong market position for US solar companies by researching ways to reduce costs to manufacturers and customers and improving the manufacturing process. It is estimated that the project has helped to reduce manufacturing cost for PV panels by 50%.[25] Examples of achievements under the PV Manufacturing Research and Development Project include the development of a manufacturing process that increase the production of silicon solar modules by 8% without increasing costs and the development of a new boron coating process that reduces solar costs over traditional processes.[25]


NREL is capable of providing an array of testing and evaluation capabilities to the PV industry with indoor, outdoor, and field testing facilities. NREL is able to provide testing on long-term performance, reliability, and component failure for PV systems. NREL also has accelerated testing capabilities from both PV cells and system components to identify areas of potential long-term degradation and failure. NREL is accredited by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for primary reference cell and secondary module calibration. It is also certified by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in accordance standard for calibrating terrestrial primary reference PV cells. The Device Performance group at NREL is able to measure the performance of PV cells and modules with regard to a standard or customized reference set. This allows NREL to serve as independent facility for verifying device performance. NREL allows industry members to test and evaluate potential products, with the hope that it will lead to more cost effective and reliable technology. The overall goal is to help improve the reliability in the PV industry.[26]


NREL also seeks to raise public awareness of PV technologies through its deployment services. NREL provides a number of technical and non-technical publications intended to help raise consumer awareness and understanding of solar PV. Scientists at NREL perform research into energy markets and how to develop the solar energy market. They also perform research and outreach in the area of building-integrated PV. NREL is also an active organizer and sponsor in the DOE’s Solar Decathlon.[27]

NREL provides a wealth of information on solar energy, beyond the scientific papers on research done at the lab. The lab provides a great number of publications on solar resources and manuals on different applications of solar technology, as well as a number of different solar resource models and tools. The lab also makes available a number of different solar resource data sets in its Renewable Resource Data Center.[28]


NREL’s Golden, Colorado campus houses several facilities dedicated to PV research. In the recently opened Science and Technology Facility, research is conduced on solar cells, thin films, and nanostructure research. NREL's Outdoor Test Facility allows researchers to test and evaluate PV technologies under a range of conditions, both indoor and outdoor. Scientists at NREL work at the Outdoor Test Facility to develop standards for testing PV technologies. At the Outdoor Test Facility NREL researchers calibrate primary reference cells for use in a range of applications. One of the main buildings for PV research at NREL is the Solar Energy Research Facility (SERF). Examples of research conducted at the SERF include semiconductor material research, prototype solar cell production, and measurement and characterization of solar cell and module performance. Additionally, the roof at the SERF is able to house ten PV panels to evaluate and analyze the performance of commercial building-integrated PV systems. Additionally, R&D in PV materials and devices, measurement and characterization, reliability testing are also conducted at the SERF.[29] At the Solar Radiation Research Laboratory, NREL has been measuring solar radiation and meteorological data since 1984.[29]

National Wind Technology Center (NWTC)

Engineering Challenges of Airborne Wind Technology by Dr. Fort Felker, director of NWTC focuses on the emerging airborne wind energy industry sector of wind energy.[30] The NWTC is also home to the Department of Energy's Wind Powering America initiative.

The main research wind turbines at NREL

See also

  • Renewable energy commercialization in the United States
  • List of renewable energy organizations
  • SMARTS (The Simple Model of the Atmospheric Radiative Transfer of Sunshine) a software published by NREL


  1. ^ NREL was established by the Solar Energy Research Development and Demonstration Act of 1974, TITLE 42,CHAPTER 71,SUBCHAPTER II


  1. ^ a b Stimulus leaves NREL in cold
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ NREL
  4. ^ NREL to Lay Off 32 Staff, Budget Shortfall
  5. ^ MRI Quick Facts - - Retrieved August 24, 2008
  6. ^ "Alliance of Sustainable Energy". About the Alliance. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  7. ^ a b NREL Overview
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "NREL Commercialization & Technology Transfer". About Technology Transfer. NREL. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "Ampulse Corporation: A Case Study on Technology Transfer in U.S. Department of Energy Laboratories". Succes Stories: Commercialization & Technology Transfer. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Retrieved 2011-04-15. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "NREL Commercialization & Technology Transfer". Technology Partnershp Agreements. NREL. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  11. ^ a b "NREL Commercialization & Technology Transfer". Licensing Agreements. NREL. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  12. ^ a b "NREL Commercialization & Technology Transfer". NREL Technology Transfer Success Stories. NREL. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  13. ^ a b "Cooperative Research and Development Agreements". Commercialization & Technology Transfer. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Retrieved 2011-04-15. 
  14. ^ a b c d e "Work-For-Others Agreements". Commercialization & Technology Transfer. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Retrieved 2011-04-15. 
  15. ^ a b c "Technologies Available for Licensing". Energy Innovation Portal. National Renewable Energy Lab. Retrieved 2011-04-15. 
  16. ^ a b "NREL Photovoltaic Research Home". Photovoltaic Research. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  17. ^ "National Center for Photovoltaics". National Center for Photovoltaics. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  18. ^ a b "Solar Energy Technologies Program". About. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  19. ^ "DOE Solar Energy Technologies Program". Budget. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  20. ^ "NREL PV Research". Partnerships. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  21. ^ a b "PV Research and Development". NREL PV Research and Development. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  22. ^ "NREL PV Research". Projects. NREL. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  23. ^ "NREL PV Research". High-Performance Photovoltaics. NREL. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  24. ^ "NREL PV Research". Thin Film Partnership Program. NREL. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  25. ^ a b "NREL PV Research". Photovoltaic (PV) Manufacturing Research and Development (R&D) Project. NREL. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  26. ^ "NREL PV Testing and Evaluation". PV Testing and Evaluation. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  27. ^ "NREL PV Depolyment". PV Depolyment. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  28. ^ "NREL Renewable Resource Data Center". Solar Resource Data. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  29. ^ a b "NREL PV Research". Facilities. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  30. ^

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