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March 14, 2013 - State of the art liquid cooled computer racks in the high performance computing (HPC) data center at NREL's Energy Systems Integration Facility. Initially, the HPC data center will house a petascale computing capability (one million billion calculations per second) and provide room for future systems that enable large-scale modeling and simulation of novel materials, biological and chemical processes, and fully integrated systems that would be too expensive, or even impossible, to study by direct experimentation. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder / NREL)

Sparking Energy Integration

Government lab leans in on energy revolution

Dr. Martin Keller assumed the help of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado late last year. He recently talked with the Energy Times about the Department of Energy’s prime renewables research facility. This is the last of a two-part series.

ENERGY TIMES: NREL’s energy system integration facility has been open two years. How is it progressing?

KELLER: We have about 100 industry and academic partners in ESIF now working in many different areas of energy integration. We are learning how do we make it easier for industry to come and work with us. I’m happy to see how this is taking off and accelerating, but in the future we can even do more.

ENERGY TIMES: And what do you think the role of that facility can play for utilities?

March 10, 2016 - NREL Director Martin Keller. (Photo by Dennis Schroeder / NREL)


Martin Keller


KELLER: Together with industry we’re hoping to explore and scientifically develop the next kind of interconnections, the next way to model and regulate the grid.  There’s a lot of cost validation and also science now moving into the facility to help companies to go to the next step.

ENERGY TIMES: Some policymakers are aiming for 100 percent renewable generation. Is that possible?

KELLER: I think so, yes. We just finished a new study exploring how the potential of solar rooftops - what is the capacity in the United States - and we doubled the potential in comparison to the older studies. We have a tremendous opportunity for doing this. The technology is out there.  This of course also goes down to a policy decision - how you incentivize and encourage homeowners to do that.  It will not be easy but I think there is a path forward for doing this.

ENERGY TIMES: Do you think ESIF will be playing a central role in making it happen?

KELLER: Correct. Germany some days reaches 70 – 80 percent of renewable electricity on the grid.  We can achieve this, yes.

ENERGY TIMES: Since you’ve joined NREL, what one single piece of research you think is perhaps least well-known by the energy community that could potentially have the biggest impact? 

KELLER: For me the biggest surprise walking in here was twofold. I wasn’t really aware how much cutting edge work we are doing in analysis of data. I was deeply impressed seeing, seeing the depths and the breadth of this group.  Secondly, I was not aware and people don’t know how much really very good science is happening in this laboratory.  There is a lot of deep, new, cutting edge research happening which in my opinion will lead us in 10 to 15 years to breakthroughs in completely new areas like nanotechnologies, new materials and bridging between solar and biology.  For me as a scientist, it is really exciting to see that the amount of innovation at NREL. This was something I was not aware of, and this is something I want to highlight because we need this to continue to drive innovation for the future.

America’s Energy Research Jewel

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