The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development in the United States. Based in Golden, Colorado and with offices in Washington D.C., NREL is a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It is operated by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy.
NREL has been operating since 1977, initially as the Solar Energy Research Institute. In 1991, the name was changed to NREL when it was designated a national laboratory by the DOE.
Solar research is one of the primary programs at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Its Solar Energy Technologies Program advances research and development in several major solar technologies.
NREL’s Solar Energy Technologies Program includes research on photovoltaics (PV), solar thermal, and solar radiation.
Perhaps the technology with which most people are familiar is photovoltaics. Say the term “solar power,” and the first thing that comes to mind is usually silicon-based PV cells, or solar panels. At NREL, advancements are being made with respect to performance and reliability of PV cells. It is developing standardized tests and performance models to help the industry, and working to accelerate manufacturing capacity of PV technologies.
This research can only be helpful if it can be transferred to the marketplace. As described on the official NREL website:
“A critical part of the Lab’s mission is the transfer of NREL-developed technologies to renewable energy markets. NREL’s Technology Transfer Office supports laboratory scientists and engineers in the successful and practical application of their expertise and the technologies they develop. NREL’s world-class R&D staff and facilities are recognized and valued by industry, as demonstrated through hundreds of collaborative research projects and licensed technologies with public and private partners.”
Another area of solar research at NREL is focused on solar thermal. Concentrating solar power is an alternative way to generate solar electricity that uses mirrors to superheat water to create steam, which then turns generators. Also known as parabolic trough technology, CSP is used in Spain, Portugal and at some California and Nevada locations to generate utility-scale solar energy.
On a smaller scale, NREL is also working to improve efficiency and lower cost of solar hot water systems. These can be installed on homes and businesses to provide hot water, without the use of electricity. At NREL, researchers are working to develop new polymer (plastic) systems for solar water heating.
Solar radiation research is necessary to determine the optimal siting of solar panels or parabolic trough technologies. At NREL, data on solar radiation and other meteorological information is collected at the Solar Radiation Research Laboratory and provided to certain organizations, universities and governmental agencies. That information is then used for climate change models, testing renewable energy conversion systems and general atmospheric research.
Research at NREL spans the range of renewable energy options, beyond just solar power. For more information about what is happening at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, click here.
Tags: concentrating solar power, national renewable energy laboratory, NREL, photovoltaic research, solar energy technologies, solar radiation research, solar research, solar thermal research, solar water heating