About The National Center for Appropriate Technology
The National Center for Appropriate Technology or NCAT has been helping people build resilient communities through local and sustainable solutions that reduce poverty, strengthen self-reliance, and protect natural resources since 1976. NCAT is a trusted, practical connector for individuals and businesses who are working to leave our world better than we found it.
We do this work through a trusted knowledgebase, providing individualized technical assistance, facilitating practical solutions, and connecting people with each other to support sustainable agriculture and clean energy systems.
Headquartered in Butte, Montana, NCAT has field offices in Arkansas, California, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah.
NCAT was created in response to the energy crisis of the 1970s to develop appropriate, low-cost, energy-saving strategies for underserved communities. In 1987, NCAT expanded its mission to include sustainable agriculture.
The “appropriate technology” movement started in the 1960s following a period of heavily-funded “high technology” after WWII. With roots in the United States and Great Britain, the term “appropriate technology” featured five key elements, all of which remain core to NCAT’s mission:
Simple to use and operate
Low-cost and labor intensive
Local or decentralized
Commitment to Racial Equity
NCAT’s work brings together diverse partnerships and communities to help reduce poverty and protect our natural resources. We strive to be a multicultural organization that embraces the rich dimensions of diversity, and we partner with vulnerable communities of color engaged in food systems and energy solutions. NCAT works in partnership with low-income and historically underserved communities of color to build resilient communities.
Ernst Friedrich Schumacher’s book “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered” was released, fueling the Appropriate Technology movement in the U.S.
Dr. Jerry Plunkett, who founded the Montana Energy Research & Development Institute received a $110,000 planning grant from the federal Community Services Administration to explore the idea of establishing a center for appropriate technology. Plunkett and his planning committee, Eugene Eccli, Pliny Fisk, Sam Love, and Mary Ann MacKenzie, conceived the idea for NCAT. U.S. Senator Mike Mansfield championed the idea.
The National Center for Appropriate Technology was created with $3 million from the Community Services Administration and the goal of “encouraging widespread use of appropriate technologies that help alleviate problems of low-income Americans.”
By early 1977, NCAT moved into the vacant Silver Bow County Poor Farm Hospital, which was built in 1902 and is the only standing “poor farm” hospital in Montana.
From 1977 to 1981, NCAT ran an Appropriate Technology Small Grants Program. By 1980 NCAT had awarded about 360 grants totaling $2.7 million to Community Action programs and other community groups. The main focus of this work was renewable energy and conservation, but NCAT also worked on housing issues, food production, transportation, and economic development.
During the few years that it was fully active, NCAT’s R&D Division did a great deal of pioneering work. Among its other accomplishments, NCAT operated one of the very first solar collector testing facilities in the United States. NCAT also developed a software tool (SunCat) to estimate the efficiency of building construction methods and materials. NCAT probably became best-known for its work on passive solar, including notable efforts to promote solar water heating.
The federal Community Services Administration was eliminated, which ended NCAT’s original source of funding. The organization was nearly shuttered.
NCAT’s headquarters briefly moved from Butte, Montana to Washington, D.C. and the organization landed a $55 million Department of Energy contract to complete a small grants program. Under a contract with U.S. Action, NCAT trained 150 Community Energy Managers, who became a division of the VISTA program.
NCAT started the DOE-funded National Appropriate Technology Assistance Service (NATAS): an information clearinghouse, technical assistance service, and toll-free phone line.
NCAT began a program similar to NATAS, but intended for farmers and rural people: Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA). Today, the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program is one of the cornerstones of NCAT.
NCAT coordinated the Mississippi Riverwise Partnership to help reduce excess nitrogen flow to the Gulf of Mexico that contributes to the dead zone. This project, funded by the McKnight Foundation, encouraged improved industrial and municipal waste treatment and better agricultural practices throughout the 31-state Mississippi River Basin.
NCAT launched the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Clearinghouse, an information resource for state, tribal, and local LIHEAP providers; and the National Energy Assistance Referral program, a free service for people who want information on where to apply for the LIHEAP program assistance.
Solar panels were installed on the historic NCAT headquarters building in Butte, Montana. The panels have supplied electricity to the building since then. In 2016, a free-standing solar array was developed on the NCAT campus to meet the building’s full electricity demand.
NCAT installed solar photovoltaic systems on 12 Montana schools and provided curriculum for students to use in conjunction with electricity generation. Over the next several years, “Sun4Schools” installed 2-kilowatt (kW), grid-connected photovoltaic systems on a total of 32 middle and high schools in Iowa and Montana. NCAT also developed the curriculum unit to be used by participating schools as a “hands-on” complement to the installed systems.
NCAT launched a pilot project, FoodCorps, in Montana to focus on farm-to-school efforts to address childhood obesity and nutrition education. The nation’s first statewide team of VISTA volunteers was trained to create and expand farm-to-school cafeteria programs. The project was so successful in educating students about how and why to eat local, healthy foods that in 2011 NCAT and partners established a national FoodCorps organization.
NCAT created the Energy Corps AmeriCorps program in cooperation with the Corporation for National and Community Service to address unmet community energy needs by promoting sustainable energy consumption and education, fostering community sustainability and helping to mitigate the effects of global climate change. Today, NCAT’s AmeriCorps service members are helping rural communities adapt to climate-related disruptions and develop a clean energy economy.
NCAT created Armed to Farm, a sustainable agriculture training program for military veterans. Armed to Farm was developed through the ATTRA
cooperative program with USDA-Rural Development with funding support from other public and private partners. More than 800 military veterans have received training through this program.
NCAT launched the Soil for Water network, first as a pilot for Texas ranchers during the megadrought. Soil for Water promotes appropriate technology, peer-to-peer learning, respectful collaboration, and adaptive management to advance regenerative agricultural practices that can resolve pressing challenges to sustainable systems of food, fiber, and water.
NCAT’s Soil for Water network expanded to include commercial farmers, ranchers, and land managers in all 50 states.
NCAT launched the nation’s first AgriSolar Clearinghouse to connect businesses, landowners, and researchers with trusted resources to support the growth of co-located solar and sustainable agriculture, also known as agrivoltaic development. The clearinghouse is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.