Energy and Climate
Energy and ClimateRenewable SystemsRenewable Energy

Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy comes from natural resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and waves, and geothermal heat, which are naturally replenished.

In 2008, about 19% of global final energy consumption came from renewables, with 13% coming from traditional biomass, which is mainly used for heating, and 3.2% from hydroelectricity. New renewables (small hydro, modern biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels) accounted for another 2.7% and are growing very rapidly. The share of renewables in electricity generation is around 18%, with 15% of global electricity coming from hydroelectricity and 3% from new renewables (Renewables 2010 Global Status Report, 2010, pp. 15–16).

While many renewable-energy projects are large scale, renewable technologies are also suited to rural and remote areas, where energy is often crucial in human development. Climate change concerns, coupled with high oil prices and increasing government support, are driving increasing renewable energy legislation, incentives, and the commercialization of renewable technologies.

Sandia National Laboratories has maintained research programs in solar, wind, and geothermal energy science and technologies since the 1970s. In recent decades, we have added research programs in biofuels and biomass to our renewable-energy portfolio. Use the menu to the right to explore our research programs and learn about our recent progress.

Wind Energy

Wind Energy

Wind energy programs at Sandia began in the early 1970s, leveraging our world-leading expertise in systems analysis and integration from our nuclear weapons programs. Our initial activities were aimed at modernizing the eggbeater-shaped vertical-axis wind turbine (VAWT) invented by G.J.M. Darrieus in the 1920s. We developed complex computer codes to accurately simulate the performance of a variety of blade configurations in a wide range of wind conditions  and to predict their fatigue life. Advanced materials were applied to improve reliability. In return, the wind analyses activities stimulated advances in mathematical modeling that later found benefit in the nuclear weapons program, bringing this synergistic relationship full circle.

Solar Energy

Solar Energy

On average, about one and a half hours of the sunlight that falls on Earth could supply humanity with enough energy to meet all the world’s needs for an entire year. Harnessing even a fraction of this energy could supply humanity with abundant energy to live, move about, and thrive industrially and economically well into the foreseeable future. Sandia is working hard to help make this dream a reality.

Sandia National Laboratories conducts research in Photovoltaics (PV), Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), and Sunshine to Petrol.

Water Power

Water Power

Sandia, through a partnership with several national laboratories and academic institutions, is leading three topic areas for Marine Hydrokinetic (MHK) research. The topic areas are:

  • Technology Development through Supporting Research and Testing
  • Market Acceleration through Environmental Assessment
  • Reference Model Development

Geothermal

Geothermal

Sandia’s work in drilling technology is aimed at reducing the cost and risk associated with drilling in harsh, subterranean environments. The historical focus of the drilling research has been directed at significantly expanding the nation’s utilization of geothermal energy. This focus in geothermal-related drilling research is the search for practical solutions to challenges associated with tapping the most intense sources of heat, typically found well below the earth’s surface in very severe environments.

Biomass

Biomass

Sandia spearheads research into energy alternatives that will help the nation reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and to combat the effects of climate change. Sandia’s long history with geothermal, solar, and wind energy research has seen a vast increase in effort and intensity over the past 15 years and has also been supplemented in recent years with efforts in biologically based fuels: biomass from nonfood plant sources and algae—both of which can be grown on land unsuitable for farming.

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More Efficient Fuel Cells under Development by EngineersSolar power and other sources of renewable energy can help combat global warming but they have a draw­back: they don’t produce energy as predictably as generating plants powered by oil, coal, or natural gas. Solar panels only produce electricity when the sun is shining, and wind turbines are only productive when the wind is brisk. […]
High-Efficiency Solar Thermochemical Reactor for Hydrogen ProductionOn June 16th, the Department of Energy Fuel Cell Technology Office (FCTO) announced $20 million for 10 R&D projects to advance technologies that can economically produce and deliver hydrogen to power fuel cells from diverse, domestic, and renewable resources thereby enabling substantial reductions in energy use and carbon emissions. Advancing these technologies is critical to […]
Sandia Vertical-Axis Wind-Turbine Research Presented at Science of Making Torque from Wind ConferenceIn June, Brian Owens (in Sandia’s Analytical Structural Dynamics Dept.) and Todd Griffith (in Sandia’s Water Power Technologies Dept.) traveled to DTU Lyngby (Technical University of Denmark: Copenhagen, Denmark) to present Sandia research on deep-water multiple-megawatt vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs). High tip-speed ratios, low frequency structural vibration modes, and flexible blades of multiple-megawatt VAWTs can […]

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