Hiller: Colorado’s collaboration on clean energy

Author: David Hiller - August 24, 2016 - Updated: August 24, 2016

David Hiller
David Hiller

Colorado’s clean energy economy has seen remarkable growth over the past twelve years, and I’ve had a front row seat. As policy director on Ken Salazar’s 2004 Senate campaign, his state issues counsel from 2005 through 2007, and as the executive director of the Colorado Energy Research Collaboratory from 2007 to 2016, I’ve seen these changes firsthand: renewable energy technologies have become mainstream, successfully competing head-to-head with coal and natural gas for new electric power generation in Colorado and around the world; Coloradans have led the world in establishing regulatory systems to make natural gas a cleaner source of energy, and we’ve made huge strides in technologies to produce fuels and chemicals from plants and algae.

The Colorado Energy Research Collaboratory, which has helped spearhead much of this work, is a wonderfully successful collaboration of four of Colorado’s (and America’s) great energy research institutions: the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, and the University of Colorado Boulder. The Collaboratory focuses on “clean energy,” including renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind power, biorefining, and technologies designed to reduce adverse impacts of fossil fuels, such as measuring and reducing methane emissions from natural gas production and transmission.

By working in cooperation with businesses and Colorado’s elected officials, the Collaboratory has helped create one of the world’s most vibrant energy communities right here in our state. Over the past decade, this unique collaboration earned high praise from organizations like the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation and the Brookings Institution.

Given the Collaboratory’s successes, it’s not hard to see why. From 2007 through 2015, 50 percent of Collaboratory-supported research proposals seeking U.S. Department of Energy funding were selected and funded by the DOE. By comparison, the average rate of success is less than 15 percent.

One example of a DOE-funded Collaboratory research project exemplifies the strength of our community: over the past two years, the Colorado School of Mines has coordinated a team of researchers from CSU, CU Boulder, NREL and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, also in Boulder, to better identify and quantify methane emissions from natural gas production and transmission operations. Building on an initial commitment of $350,000 by the Collaboratory, this team attracted more than 20 natural gas companies and utilities to commit an additional $1.35 million, and successfully competed for more than $3.2 million in funding from the DOE. The results of this closely watched study will be published later this year.

Of course, the Collaboratory institutions aren’t the only players helping to drive the clean energy sector. For example, Xcel Energy worked with researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research to improve wind forecasting. As a result, Xcel has improved its wind forecasting accuracy by nearly 35 percent, and better forecasting and other operations improvements have saved Xcel’s customers a total of $60.6 million in fuel costs through end of 2015.

Today, NREL and the Collaboratory universities are preparing to launch a new effort to emphasize and accelerate the crossover from innovation to commercialization. By identifying high priority technology goals and assembling teams of relevant researchers, business leaders and investors, the Collaboratory institutions will work to significantly increase both the pace of research and the successful commercialization of the new technology.

Working hand-in-hand, the Colorado cleantech research community and the Colorado clean energy business community have laid the foundation for the continuing growth of this economic sector, supporting both a healthy Colorado economy and a healthy Colorado environment. The continued cooperation and collaboration among Colorado’s research universities, federal laboratories, large and small companies and state offices will help our state and the world achieve a sustainable, economical, and reliable energy future.

David Hiller

David Hiller

David Hiller recently retired after serving as executive director of the Colorado Energy Research Collaboratory for eight years.