Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) renewable energy research portfolio focuses on science and technology to support a cleaner environment, a stronger economy, and a more secure future for our nation. Our work is dedicated to expanding energy resource options and to improving efficiency in every element of energy production and use, and to ensuring a reliable and secure grid that fully integrates central generation with distributed resources, manages power flows, facilitates recovery from disruptions to the energy supply, and meets the nation's need for electric power.
Researchers are developing technologies to improve hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal, and other renewable energy systems. We are also developing advancements to modernize the grid, including grid monitoring, modeling and analysis; advanced components and materials; systems integration; and energy infrastructure cyber- and physical security.
Hydropower research activities include technology development, economic research, stream classification and siting tools for small, modular hydropower projects, and advancements in energy storage. ORNL hosts the HydroWISE website, a portal for powerful tools, data, maps, publications, and hydropower research and development projects funded by the DOE Water Power Technologies Office. HydroWISE makes it easier for developers to access information on: infrastructure, environmental, sustainability and regulatory issues; technology development; and markets and values.
Similarly, ORNL scientists perform R&D to support the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative concentrating on the goal of reducing the cost of energy, including anti-soling coatings for solar panels, the use of molten salt to allow high-temperature energy storage on solar collection projects, and highly efficient silicon carbide-based power inverters for PV panels.
ORNL scientists are likewise engaged in research to increase the efficiency and lower the cost of wind turbines. Leveraging its world-renowned materials expertise, ORNL is engaged in research to improve wind turbine blades, gearboxes, carbon fiber production, and other technology for the most efficient wind technologies. Our power systems engineers are innovating ways to integrate this valuable, renewable resource into the power grid to increase overall system resiliency and security.
In the area of Geothermal Technologies, ORNL supports the Department of Energy’s mission to secure the future with Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) through novel characterization techniques and components research. ORNL scientists and engineers are developing innovative technologies, an increased understanding of sub-surface processes, and improvements in operational practice to meet these goals.
Our focus areas include: Development of neutron imaging and scattering techniques to understand flow through fractures and the hydraulic fracture process; energy conversion including the exploration of improved thermodynamic cycles and working fluids and the development of more efficient heat exchanger technologies; applying advanced materials to improve well construction technologies; and the development of harsh environment sensors for reservoir characterization.
In the area of grid modernization, our innovators are mindful that integrating renewable energy into the larger power grid provides a more diverse fuel supply mix but also brings new challenges. ORNL expertise and technologies support the grid’s need for energy storage, advanced sensors, components, and control technologies that will handle the greater variety of power supplies such as wind and solar and distributed generation.
ORNL is developing and demonstrating along with our industry partners the technology to manage distributed energy networks known as microgrids. Our microgrid controller, developed on our unique and safe testbed platform and at ORNL’s own research test house, is now being rolled out to communities custom-built with microgrid components in two states in conjunction with a utility partner.
The same digital technologies that have improved electrical grid efficiency also make the system vulnerable to cyberintrusion. ORNL scientists are working on solutions to heighten grid monitoring and automatic detection and deterrence of threats, along with new methods of communications leveraging quantum science and private networks. Coupled with breakthroughs to make the grid more resilient whether threats are natural or manmade, our goal is a self-aware, self-healing network to defend this vital national infrastructure.