An Update from NREL is a new segment that we will run in ICOSA, written by me—Martha Butwin, a senior international trade specialist for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Service in Denver, Colorado. I participated as a member of the 2012 NREL Executive Energy Leadership Program, a group of public and private sector professionals who took part in a 10-day training program at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. Going forward, An Update from NREL will focus on the collaborative efforts of the United States’s premier renewable energy research facility. Coming editions of ICOSA’s An Update from NREL will feature alumni projects that have come to fruition, as well as the latest and greatest in renewable energy being developed at NREL.
I am not a stranger to NREL—I have taken part in short training programs along with my Commercial Service colleagues and have escorted numerous trade missions, including foreign presidential delegations, to tours and meetings at the facility’s various laboratories. I applied to participate in the 10-day NREL Executive Energy Program (EEP) because it would be hands-on and would introduce me to a group of energy professionals that could potentially benefit my exporting clients. But as an added bonus, it could satisfy my engineer “geek” leanings that are generally set aside in my standard workday. At the EEP, our days were filled with overviews from the greatest minds in solar, wind and virtually every area of renewable energy, followed by field trips, both inside and outside of NREL facilities, to show us how each type of renewable energy works. The biggest question, however, was how the different types of energy would work together. That’s where NREL’s new Energy Systems Integration Facility—ESIF—comes into play.
When the ESIF opens its doors on NREL’s main campus in late 2012, it will enable them to work together with industry leaders to overcome the challenges of integrating renewable energy solutions into the electrical grid. Given the critical nature of our nation’s power grid, it cannot be shut down or overhauled purely for testing purposes. And there has not been a facility that operated at the level that could conduct integrated megawatt-scale research and development of the components and strategies needed in order to safely move clean energy technologies onto the electrical grid “in-flight” at the speed and scale required to meet national goals.
Enter ESIF, a research facility that will house approximately 200 scientists and engineers and a full-range of state-of-the-art laboratories, including but not limited to power systems integration, energy storage, smart power, thermal storage process and components, fuel cell development and testing, as well as manufacturing. The facility will also feature a high-performance, one-half petaflop-scale computing data center that is expected to expand to a one petaflop-scale in the intermediate term. This data center will expand NREL’s capabilities in modeling and simulation of renewable energy technologies and their integration into the existing energy infrastructure.
Because these processes and systems would be too expensive or impossible to study by direct experimentation, private industry has expressed interest in conducting its own research and development at the ESIF. “Participation from utilities, equipment manufacturers, renewable systems integrators, universities, and other national labs and related industries in fully utilizing ESIF’s capabilities will dramatically accelerate the research required to transform the energy systems to one that is cleaner, more secure and more reliable,” stated Dr. Dave Mooney, director of NREL’s Electricity Resources and Building Systems Integration Center. Fittingly, the facility that is being built to help take our nation into a cleaner energy future will also serve as an example of energy efficiency, being built to a minimum LEED Gold Certification, and demonstrating the “office of the future,” with natural ventilation through operable windows, daylighting, open air cubicles and “chilled beam” technology.
My classmates and I have graduated into the NREL Energy Execs Alumni group and have taken the tools that we acquired in our summer program and applied them in our own work settings. We plan to meet again at alumni gatherings, with an introductory tour of the ESIF building certain to be a highlight.