NREL chief: Renewable energy needs a new story to tell

Source: By Cathy Proctor, Denver Business Journal • Posted: Friday, March 17, 2017

Supporters of renewable energy need to talk about more than how solar and wind power can combat climate change if the sector is to attract a wider base of support, the director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory told a room full of solar power executives Tuesday.

“We have interesting times in Washington, so we here at NREL need your help,” NREL Director Martin Keller said during his keynote speech at the annual conference of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association at the Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield.

Martin Keller, the director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, speaks at the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association annual conference in Broomfield in March 2017.

Martin Keller, the director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Cathy Proctor | Denver Business Journal

The three-day conference, which concludes Wednesday, drew about 550 people, according to the state solar trade group.

The specter of deep budget cuts at the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees NREL and its 16 sister national laboratories, have swirled during the first months of President Donald Trump’s administration, leading to concerns about what might happen to NREL’s budget.

The national laboratory in Golden employs 1,700 scientists and researchers, contributed $872 million in economic impact across the Denver metro area in 2014 and has drawn $380 billion in private sector investment over the years, Keller said.

“We need to do a better job in telling the story, of telling people why this [NREL and renewable energy] is important,” Keller told the group.

“We push the story toward the climate change element, which is an important element, but is there a new way to tell our story?” Keller asked.

“Solar on rooftops gives you independence, it saves money for our citizens, it’s important to highlight the jobs that we’re creating. It’s more than just saving the planet, which solar does, but there’s a better way to tell the story,” he said.

About 260,000 Americans worked in the solar power sector in 2016, more than double the number in 2010, according to The Solar Foundation. Colorado has nearly 5,000 people working in the solar sector, according to the foundation.

Solar power’s capacity has grown incredibly during the last few years, but it also has a lot of potential still to be tapped, he said.

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