Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

University teams with National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The University of Denver is cranking up the power on renewable energy research, teaming in the past year with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on projects that may someday help the United States run cleaner and more independently.

Robert Noun, executive director for communications at NREL, told attendees at the March 2 Provost’s Luncheon about new collaborative initiatives that incorporate NREL researchers and a number of campus departments and schools, including the Korbel School of International Studies, Sturm College of Law, Daniels College of Business as well as the physics and engineering departments.

“It is a historic moment these days at NREL,” Noun said. “We’re delighted to see DU play a role, and hopefully we’ll see that role extended.”

Noun, who serves as an adjunct faculty member at the Sturm College of Law, said there is need for a new multidisciplinary approach to renewable energy development. Engineers need to understand finance, lawyers need to understand technology behind new inventions and policy makers need to understand environmental law. And there is room for even more departments, he said.

Law professor K.K. DuVivier, director of the environmental law program at Sturm, also addressed the assembled faculty and staff. She is writing a textbook on energy law — a rapidly developing area that lacks a comprehensive text. She said growing global demand and limited production capacity means drastic drops in fossil fuel prices are probably a thing of the past. It was those drops and spikes that kept interest in renewable energy on a rollercoaster in the past, she said. With prices now bound to remain high, there will be growth in renewable energy law, policy and technology demands.

Noun said NREL is working with DU in law and policy and has about $575,000 invested in grants supporting DU research in pollution abatement and solar power. Some students are also afforded access to NREL facilities for research.

The goal of this new push to reach out to universities is not to develop incremental improvements to existing wind and solar power technologies, but rather to spark innovation that will lead to breakthroughs in the coming decade. Through collaboration and with the support leaders in Washington, Noun said the future is bright.

“The phone is sort of ringing off the hook at our place,” he said. “We find ourselves right in the middle of this administration’s clean energy agenda.”


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