National Labs in the Clean Energy Ecosystem

The clean energy and technology industry has seen it’s share of growth and bust cycles, paired with numerous regulatory and technology challenges. Despite past issues, 2014 was seen as a rebound for the industry, with overall investments increasing across the board (Source: BNEF Global Trends in Clean Energy Investment, 1/9/15). Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 10.50.41 AM

Indicators such as declining solar prices and increased adoption, EV sales growth, an increasing number of startups, and evolving business models are a few other examples pointing to a healthy return to cleantech. And as 2015 kicks off, early signs point to another prosperous year. With funds returning to the sector, it can be expected that a revival in clean energy companies will be seen as well.

As these early stage companies continue to grow, an often-overlooked resource for technology companies and the ecosystem as a whole are the national labs. The National Labs system is made up of 17 federally funded research institutions, whose research and analysis expertise are designed to advance developments in science and technology. Numerous opportunities to partner with the national labs as well as obtain technical assistance abound, and can be an ideal way to validate technologies and provide assurance to the market.

As the only federal lab dedicated to advancing research in the area of renewable energy and energy efficiency, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is on the forefront of breakthroughs in clean technology research. While many labs focus heavily on basic R&D, as an applied lab NREL takes a concentrated approach to move technologies from lab-to-market. This not only results in the licensing of NREL technologies, but also directs researchers to consider commercialization and deployment pathways for technologies developed within the lab.

NREL’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center (IEC) can provide access to technical assistance, facilities, and equipment that enhance the commercialization process of startups; and has programs specifically designed to support the deployment of clean energy technologies. In addition to technical support, the IEC has developed strong ties to the investment community and corporate partners, staying on the pulse of current financing trends and opportunities. Through outreach and programs, the IEC is also able to connect the investment community with the entrepreneurs seeking financing.

The combination of research expertise, entrepreneur engagement, and connection to the investment community provides NREL a unique position as both a resource and a convener of the clean energy ecosystem. As technologies, business models, and financing mechanisms continue to evolve- the ecosystem that surrounds it will transform as well, with National labs continuing to establish themselves as a vital component of this ecosystem.

– Richard Adams, Director, Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center, NREL

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