Image credit: NREL

Clean Energy To Communities Program Launched By Department Of Energy

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In January, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it launched the Clean Energy to Communities program, which will provide up to $50 million to support a range of communities and their clean energy development needs. Small communities might ‘’fall through cracks” when it comes to clean energy implementation. The new DOE program was created to help them. 

Clean Energy to Communities is flexible enough to work with a variety of clean energy situations. Some communities lack clean energy technical knowledge, others may be unaware of what energy and climate change policies apply to them at the local level and how they intersect with clean energy. Still others may need help with understanding the financial aspects of clean energy development.

Fortunately and generously, Jenny Sumner, Modeling & Analysis Group Manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, answered some questions about the new program for CleanTechnica.

What is Clean Energy to Communities and what does it do?

The Clean Energy to Communities (C2C) program from the U.S. Department of Energy provides communities with expertise and tools to transform clean energy goals into achievable plans. It connects local governments, tribes, electric utilities, and community-based organizations with experts and customized, cutting-edge analysis from DOE’s national laboratories, and it allows all partners to work together to develop a future clean energy system that is reflective of their own local and regional priorities. 

By bringing together innovative technology, state-of-the-art modeling, and unique abilities to test clean energy equipment before installing it in the field, C2C can help close the gap between clean energy ambitions and decrease the risks of real-world deployment. Communities lie at the heart of C2C, recognizing that when it comes to clean energy, each community has different institutional contexts, resources, challenges, opportunities, and ambitions. 

C2C fosters community-led innovation with tailored support, from goal-setting and project development to technology deployment.

C2C offers multiple levels and types of tailored technical assistance, from a few months to a few years:

  • In-Depth Partnerships: Multi-year partnerships that provide cross-sector modeling, analysis, and testing, paired with direct funding to help four to five selected teams of local governments, electric utilities, and community-based organizations reach their goals and/or overcome specific challenges. 
  • Peer-Learning Cohorts: Small groups of local and tribal governments, electric utilities, local and regional planning organizations, and/or community-based organizations that meet regularly for approximately six months to learn from each other and lab experts in a collaborative environment to develop program proposals, action plans, strategies, and/or best practices on a pre-determined clean energy topic. Cohorts will include approximately 100 communities in total.
  • Expert Match: Short-term assistance (40–60 hours) with one or more technical experts to help address near-term clean energy questions or challenges for up to 200 communities.

C2C is funded by DOE’s Office of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.

What is DOE’s national lab complex and what are its capabilities?

An outgrowth of immense investment in scientific research initiated by the U.S. government during World War II, the national laboratories have served as the leading institutions for scientific innovation in the United States for more than 70 years.

The Energy Department’s 17 national labs tackle the critical scientific challenges of our time — from combating climate change to discovering the origins of our universe — and possess unique instruments and facilities, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. They address large-scale, complex research and development challenges with a multidisciplinary approach that places an emphasis on translating basic science to innovation.

C2C is managed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), with additional support from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 

C2C leverages expertise and capabilities from across these labs, meaning staff that are experts in their specific fields related to power, mobility, grid, buildings, and related topics may work with communities participating in any of the three levels of technical assistance support. 

C2C’s lab capabilities also include NREL’s Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems  (ARIES) platform, which allows local leaders to see how a virtual model of their community interacts with actual and emulated clean energy infrastructure and devices, such as wind turbines, controllers, and electric charging stations—helping to de-risk future investments. 

Why do communities need support in achieving their clean energy goals?

C2C is designed to serve a wide range of communities — from small rural communities to large urban centers; from communities just starting out on their transition to clean energy to those ready to implement — by offering multiple levels and types of tailored technical assistance, from a few months to a few years, as well as peer-learning opportunities. 

Local governments and electric utilities may lack the technical capacity to understand how clean energy, electric vehicles, and related technology could be integrated into their existing infrastructure, and the economic, social, health, and other impacts it might have. With C2C, communities of all sizes can benefit from access to the innovative modeling and testing tools developed at DOE’s world-class national laboratories as well as partnerships with the experts that developed them. 

C2C builds upon NREL’s Los Angeles 100% Renewable Energy Study, which evaluated a wide range of scenarios to help stakeholders understand possible pathways to the city’s goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045, and the implications of these pathways for people who live and work in the city. The study found that meeting Los Angeles’ goal of reliable, 100% renewable electricity by 2045 is achievable and will provide significant health and climate benefits. 

For Cohoes, NY, what did the Clean Energy to Communities program do to help the town determine that floating solar power is appropriate for its reservoir? Do you know the size of the floating solar power system and when it will be installed?

The city of Cohoes, New York, had the idea that they might be suitable for floating solar and came across an NREL report on “Floating Photovoltaic Systems: Assessing the Technical Potential of Photovoltaic Systems on Man-Made Water Bodies in the Continental United States.” They then connected with the NREL authors in what became a pilot for C2C’s Expert Match program. 

Even with the idea, “We didn’t have a clear pathway. We wanted to be part of the shift to a clean energy future. But what’s the right technology and how do you fund it?” said former Cohoes City Director of Operations Theresa Bourgeois.

The Expert Match team of researchers provided guidance on appropriate design and installation of the floating solar panels. The result was the design for a 3.2 megawatt (MW), municipally owned and operated floating solar project—the first of its kind in the nation. Expert Match researchers at NREL analyzed the regulatory structures that would allow the project to share the electricity with the school district and housing authority. 

“The idea is if we own and operate the floating solar, then we will be generating all the electricity that we need for our municipal buildings,” explained Bourgeois. “There will be up to 40% capacity generated remaining to make sure that that the community gets the broadest benefit for that. We’re working with our school district and we’re working with our housing authority to have them share in that. So what are the legal agreements about that? These are all of the kinds of topics that we needed more technical assistance on.”

Cohoes expects to install its floating solar array on the water reservoir within the next year.

Cohoes also connected with local university Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to turn NREL’s floating solar data into a data visualization tool – the Floating Solar Explorer. The interactive map offers state-by-state indicators where human-made water reservoirs are potentially suitable for floating solar, and layers in economic data by congressional district. 

When the C2C NREL team worked with the Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA) in Alaska, they were having meetings, sharing data, providing analysis and feedback…what were some of the steps they took together when they collaborated?

Working closely with together, GVEA and NREL meet weekly to discuss wind and load data, review feedback, and brainstorm solutions about the best way to retrofit the existing coal plant.  

NREL has provided a range of technical assistance— from production cost modeling, to grid stability analysis, to looking at specific scenarios on the grid that could be of concern when adding inverter-based technologies such as wind to the system.  

If the Golden Valley Electric Association generates about 91% of its electricity from fossil fuels, what clean energy sources can they use to replace fossil fuels?

Through the C2C program, the utility has been working with the NREL team over the past year to create a detailed analysis of the current generation plan and evaluate the impact to the GVEA system of transitioning to clean energy solutions. Central to the plan is shutting down a 50-MW coal plant by 2025 and replacing it with three sources: new wind generation, new energy storage, and imports of additional power from Southcentral Alaska. 

NREL demonstrated through extensive analysis how large-scale wind power could be added to the grid without affecting its performance. With wind and storage on the system, GVEA will have to modify their controls and operations to ensure that the system is protected during high impact events. Experts helped the GVEA team assess different battery storage systems to replace its existing storage system, which — when it was installed 18 years ago — was the largest battery in the world. In addition to new wind turbines and batteries, GVEA will also work with the state of Alaska and other utilities to upgrade transmission lines that run 700 miles across the state to bring more energy from the Bradley Lake Project and Southcentral Alaska, which has access to wind, hydropower, and other clean energy sources.

How does Clean Energy to Communities approach and select communities to work with on their clean energy goals?

Communities of all sizes and types are encouraged to apply for C2C’s programs. C2C was announced on January 18, 2023 at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting, and the team is engaging a range of entities to help spread the word about the program.

C2C’s In-Depth Partnerships are selected via a competitive request for proposal (RFP) process. See the pre-solicitation for details.

Applications to C2C’s Expert Match and Peer-Learning Cohorts programs are reviewed against established requirements and criteria, including the need for assistance, authority and influence of the community representative, level of interest and intention for participation, near-term opportunities to implement learnings, and equity priorities. 

If communities are interested in working with Clean Energy to Communities, how should they proceed?

Communities that are interested in multi-year support through project design and deployment via C2C’s In-Depth Partnerships should start compiling their team today ahead of the expected RFP release in mid-February.

Communities that have a specific local energy challenge or question that could benefit from short-term (40–60 hours) technical assistance can apply today to C2C’s Expert Match program.

Applications for the next round of C2C’s Peer-Learning Cohorts, including the topics, will open in March 2023. See the pilot cohort topics listed on the webpage to get a sense of areas that might be covered, and sign up for the C2C email list to be the first to know when these applications open.

Learn more about all three programs at

We hope you’ll consider applying today!

Graphic by NREL.

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Jake Richardson

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