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Energizing our nation’s future

Celebration at NREL marks facility’s 40th anniversary


At 12:59 p.m. on July 5, about 45 National Renewable Energy Laboratory employees gathered to sing “Happy Birthday” in the Science and Technology Facility on the campus east of Golden.

Simultaneously, the sun made its way through a skylight in the ceiling to light up a commemorative medallion on the floor, officially marking the 40th anniversary of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

NREL “is an exciting place to be,” said the lab’s spokesperson, Heather Lammers. “We’re leaders and innovators in advanced energy technologies.”

The facility began as the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) with a focus on exploring non-petroleum energy options — in particular, solar technology. Today, NREL is dedicated to all forms of advanced energy and energy efficiency research, which includes wind, water and algae.

But NREL’s mission does not stop with research. It works with industry to transfer these innovative ideas into the marketplace, Lammers said.

“The Wall Street of ideas is the conferences,” said Brent Nelson, a group manager at NREL. “We don’t stop innovating.”

From working with photovoltaics to creating third-generation solar cells, NREL has accomplished much in the past 40 years.

And “there are so many new and interesting things on the horizon,” Lammers said.

For example, she said, NREL scientists are working with a new material for use in solar cells called perovskites. It is a disruptive technology that could lead to increases in the efficiency and stability of lower-cost solar cells.

“We’re at the forefront of looking for ways to combine all types of advanced energy on to the grid, in ways that modernize the grid into one that is agile, responsive and can handle large amounts of wind and solar being generated and used,” Lammers said. “NREL will be leading research in all of these areas, and more.”

While NREL is internationally known for strengthening the nation’s energy security, it supports its local community by boosting economic growth, said NREL’s public affairs manager, Janice Rooney. It is among the 10 largest employers in Jefferson County and has a $275 million local economic impact, she said.

In addition, “our community-minded staff live, play and raise their families in this area,” Rooney said. “As a result, our staff believes it’s important to give back to the community.”

Lab employees participate in giving campaigns and volunteer programs, resulting in supporting hundreds of local organizations, Rooney said.

To celebrate the approach of its 40th anniversary, the lab has been putting on a number of special events for its employees — private luncheons, conferences and hosting guest speakers.

One such speaker was Shuji Nakamura, who was part of the team that won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2014 for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

The community has an opportunity to get involved through NREL’s Power Lunch Lecture Series, during which the public is invited to hear from experts on a variety of energy efficiency topics.

NREL also hosts campus tours for any U.S. citizen age 18 and older. The Historical Campus Tour, implemented in recognition of the 40th anniversary, provides visitors with an inside look at the laboratory’s research progress, technological achievements and economic impact. The Sustainable Campus Walking Tour is a learning opportunity to see how the campus is demonstrating clean energy technologies, reducing waste and eliminating atmospheric pollution.

“NREL is proud to call Golden its home,” Lammers said. “Together, we’ve been fortunate to see the community and the lab grow.”


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