NREL turns 40 amid questions about its future

Perhaps no project of the U.S. government has done more for the solar energy than the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL). Since its founding, NREL has been on the forefront of global research on everything from costs of deployed solar to the development of multi-junction PV to studies on the integration of high levels of wind and solar, often filling a critical need for early stage research in solar industry’s infancy.

In a post on its website, NREL outlines some of the agency’s accomplishments since its founding as the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) in 1977, in a rented office with 40 employees. In honor of the great work that NREL has done, we at pv magazine would like to mention some of our personal favorites.

  • The series of wind and solar integration studies for the western United States, eastern United States, and Hawaii, which concluded that the United States could meet easily 30-35% of its electricity needs with wind and solar, given some changed operational practices and in the eastern United States additional transmission infrastructure.
  • The lab’s PV system cost benchmark reports, which have kept the industry up-to-date on the impressive fall in PV system prices, and the details of what still needs to be done.

However, the work that NREL has done to support the solar industry from its infancy could be limited if the Trump Administration has its way. In May pv magazine obtained a copy of Trump’s budget for fiscal year 2018, which proposes a 21% reduction to the NREL’s overall budget, a 21% cut to solar programs, and the elimination of the lab’s energy storage research, among other cuts.

As such, the fate of these programs and NREL’s ability to continue to provide important research for the solar industry is now at the mercy of the Trump Administration and U.S. Congress, both houses of which are controlled by Trump’s Republican Party.

Professor Daniel Kammen of U.C. Berkeley is one of the nation’s foremost solar researchers, and is among those who has criticized the Trump Administration for its approach to clean energy. “As a researcher who has documented and quantified the exceptional job-creation that has come from the expansion of the clean energy industry, I am disgusted to see these proposed cuts to the budgets for solar and other innovative, low-carbon, energy systems,” Kammen told pv magazine.

“Cutting these efforts is plain and simple a step backwards that kills job creation, impends the private sector, and send a message to China, Germany and many other governments that the US has no interest to technically, economically or politically lead the largest area of economic growth on the planet: the clean-tech revolution. How sad.”