Sempra Energy and NREL to grow AI and low-carbon solutions

By Dominic Ellis
Sempra Energy signs MoU with National Renewable Energy Laboratory to advance net-zero energy systems

Sempra Energy has signed an MoU with the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), providing a framework for a joint effort to advance future net-zero energy systems.

Sempra Energy and NREL will coordinate and share objectives focused on:

  • Advancing AI to scale solutions across the U.S. and enable cities to reach clean energy goals;
  • Integrating low-carbon fuel solutions, including hydrogen, renewable natural gas, carbon capture, utilization and sequestration, and fuel cells;
  • Exploring innovative solutions towards 100% renewable energy communities, requiring and implementing smart and enhanced controls, integration and operational capabilities as a blueprint for expansion;
  • Enhancing electric grids with technology that upgrades the infrastructure with a focus on reliability, connectivity and security; and
  • Promoting viable net-zero solutions that are delivered with equity and widespread community access.

The MOU will continue current work researching and developing innovative solutions to help shape a lower-carbon future through technology and applications capable of withstanding increasing energy demand and broad adoption while advancing future innovation.

"To achieve global carbon-neutrality, energy systems will need to transform dramatically over the coming decades. Our partnership with NREL drives forward a vision to advance the energy systems of the future by focusing on innovation and resiliency," said Lisa Alexander, senior vice president of corporate affairs and chief sustainability officer for Sempra Energy. "New investment and innovative partnerships are critical to developing solutions that will manifest a global energy transition while promoting economic growth and prosperity."

"Building on our strong history of collaboration, we are excited to accelerate our work with Sempra to advance clean energy solutions," said Doug Arent, executive director for strategic public-private partnerships at NREL. "Researching key synergies across power, low carbon fuels and industrial sectors are expected to provide critical innovations toward realizing a low carbon, equitable, affordable, secure and reliable energy economy."

Sempra Energy and NREL have been collaborating for nearly a decade on cooperative and multi-year projects exploring the development, access and integration of low-carbon fuels and microgrid technology.

In 2013, Sempra Energy's subsidiary San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and NREL established the nation's first utility-owned community microgrid in Borrego Springs, Calif., connected to a local 26-megawatt solar field (owned by a third party), two battery storage systems, two generators, and an ultracapacitor.

The microgrid, which is being upgraded so that it can operate on 100% clean energy, was designed to provide consistent power flowing to the remote desert town during emergencies and planned outages on the larger grid.

In 2017, Sempra Energy's subsidiary Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) and NREL partnered to create, validate and integrate the nation's first carbon-free, power-to-gas pilot-system. The technology takes excess electricity and converts it to hydrogen, which can be used, stored, or combined with carbon dioxide and fed to a bioreactor to produce renewable natural gas (RNG).

This innovative technology could provide North America with a large-scale, cost-effective solution for storing excess energy produced from renewable sources. Additionally, Sempra Energy and NREL have coordinated efforts to research the impacts of hydrogen blending in natural gas networks, and studied potential pathways for wholesale market access to hydrogen production facilities. Sempra Energy and its operating companies, including SoCalGas and SDG&E, are also exploring the decarbonisation of regional and industrial hubs, or industrial clusters, to mitigate carbon emissions from industrial processes – such as manufacturing, steel and chemicals – that cannot be electrified.

The companies, in partnership with NREL and the U.S. Department of Energy, are researching integrated solutions that may enable these sectors to achieve significant emissions reductions, while maintaining productivity, creating jobs, and fostering healthier communities.

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