NREL Research Contributes to Economic Stability
By National Renewable Energy Laboratory Director Martin Keller
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have suffered economically. Many workers lost their jobs or got furloughed. Business owners faced unprecedented headwinds, and some enterprises had to shut permanently.
Especially at times such as this, it is vital to have organizations that help provide economic stability both locally and nationally. At this point in time, I feel very proud that at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), we have been able to continue our important mission and in doing so, create a ripple effect of benefit to other individuals and organizations.
With support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and collaborators and partners around the globe, NREL’s economic impact in fiscal year 2019 (FY19) was $1.4 billion across the country. This is according to an analysis by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, Boulder. That total is up from $1.1 billion in FY17, the previous year that Leeds’ Business Research Division studied NREL’s contributions.
Of course, the biggest impact is in Colorado, where NREL created $875 million in estimated value for our home state. This number grew from $748 million during that same two-year period. Within that sum, NREL’s direct expenses for FY19 totaled $491.8 million, of which 87% came from funding from DOE. The vast majority of funds are spent in Colorado, further boosting the laboratory’s importance to the state.
If you draw a circle around our main campus in Golden, Colorado, you will see the highest concentration of benefits in Jefferson County due to our employment: 55% of the laboratory’s 2,265 employees live in Jefferson County where Golden is located. The university calculated NREL has a countywide economic impact of $617 million, which was up from an estimated at $413 million two years ago. NREL’s economic benefit to Jefferson County has climbed by more than 218% from FY12 to FY19.
People in the Centennial State are justifiably pleased that DOE decided to locate our predecessor, the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI), in Golden 43 years ago. And we’ve been thankful ever since to have such close relations with local schools, institutions, municipalities, and supporters.
But this isn’t just a story about a bunch of numbers that show our economic value. This is about multiplying impact to benefit the nation. As global energy use continues to increase, at NREL we are working to ensure that our energy sources are safe, secure, and reliable. But none of this happens without significant and far-reaching collaboration.
To do our part to find solutions for meeting the world’s current and future energy demands, NREL is pursuing a wide range of solutions through basic science and engineering that promise to transform energy systems, reduce waste, and lower electricity costs as industry finds ways to bring new technologies to market. We are relentlessly seeking ways to improve and expand how the electrical grid integrates the latest technology.
Indeed, whether its refining the designs of utility-scale wind farms, pushing the efficiency of solar cells, bringing renewable energy resources to remote Alaskan communities, or improving clean transportation for urban areas, we are helping the United States stay competitive globally.
If you think of our mission in those terms, it is hard to put a price tag on our efforts.
Research conducted at NREL reduces investment risk in new technologies while creating new business opportunities throughout the economy. In that sense, the study’s dollar figures represent only a fraction of the innovations from our researchers, which range from university-laboratory-business collaborations to spinoff technologies that are commercialized.
So while we’re happy to act as a stabilizer during these tumultuous times — a role which we envision will continue and grow — we know that we are serving a larger purpose.
We will continue to provide leadership not just at the state level, but nationally and globally for a future powered by affordable, abundant, and clean energy. This is our mission.
We can’t, of course, prevent upheavals or global crises. Still, because of our supporters and successful research efforts, we are positioned to help forge a path forward so that the economy not only recovers but improves the lives of all Americans. That’s a benefit everyone can count on.