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NREL: NREL, Kern Community College District Collaborate on Launch of First-of-Its-Kind California Renewable Energy Laboratory

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In late October, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Director Martin Keller stood alongside Kern Community College District (KCCD) Chancellor Sonya Christian to formally announce the beginning of an exciting new development in the transition to renewable energy. The state of California has awarded KCCD $50 million to create a renewable energy hub, called the California Renewable Energy Laboratory (CREL), and $200K of that has come to NREL to help get CREL off the ground.

“We are incredibly excited about working with the Kern Community College District, bringing what we know, learning from our partners, and innovating together,” NREL Director Martin Keller said. “NREL recently celebrated its 45th anniversary, and we’ve looked back a little bit at all the lab has accomplished through collaboration. There’s still plenty of work to be done, the challenge is great, but I am very much optimistic about the future.”

The initial areas of interest include microgrids, agrivoltaics, transportation, carbon management (including capture, utilization, and storage), and curriculum and workforce development. A virtual hub with no physical location, CREL’s technical scope will be implemented at Bakersfield College. Developing that scope of work will be one of the first steps.

At the heart of CREL is a trio of centers of excellence. They focus on grid resilience, clean transportation, and carbon management. Former California State Assemblymember Nicole Parra called CREL a “one-stop shop” for “coordinating local efforts to achieve the transition of our energy supply and power generation systems to carbon neutral.” The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between NREL and KCCD enables in broad terms the “coordination of independently programmed workforce development, outreach, and analysis activities, including establishing an NREL regional hub in Kern County.”

The MOU also states “NREL and Kern CCD intend to identify strategic areas for future collaboration, assess the potential of each area, and begin the necessary steps to realize that potential.”

“To solve the challenges we face today, we’ll need to make as much progress in clean energy as we have in the last 30 years,” Keller said. “This is a great economic opportunity, particularly with technologies that can be implemented in so many different places. The sun shines more in certain places than others, but it’s still a universal resource. And renewable electricity could be used anywhere to synthesize hydrogen as a clean fuel. These new technologies can lead to new industries and bring economic benefits that won’t necessarily be limited by geography.”

One primary goal of CREL is to empower local private and public partnerships. As the leader among U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories in partnerships, NREL has a wealth of expertise to offer. NREL is already familiar with Kern County and Bakersfield College, having provided technical guidance and assistance on community education webinars, curriculum development, and mini-demonstration project development.

Kern County is unique in that it is one of the top oil-producing counties in the nation but also produces 60% of the renewable energy in California, the world’s fifth largest economy. The county also has a long history of agriculture. Keller called Kern County a crossroads and said that makes it a “great place to test and put into practice the discoveries and solutions our researchers are creating.”

Expanding on Christian’s comments on KCCD’s efforts to build through education, Keller added, “We need help and perspectives from all parts of society. The young people coming up today through community colleges are part of the next generation of scientists and workers who will continue our efforts to make the world a better place.”

So far, there is no firm timetable for the build-out of CREL.

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