University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Energy Transition Lab

Solar Energy

Energy Transition Lab has researched the economic and jobs impacts of our growing solar energy industry, and found that near-term solar and wind energy development will bring some 5000 new jobs to a number of rural Minnesota counties, many of which have had very little renewable energy development previously  (see our Minnesota Clean Energy: Economic Impacts and Policy Drivers report).  Additionally, we are closely connected to solar energy policy and market issues, and given presentations at the Minnesota Solar Energy Industry Association (MNSEIA) annual conference and the Midwest Solar Expo, among others.  We  hosted a high-level stakeholder meeting with national and state experts on Inclusive Energy Finance, a mechanism for low-income energy customers to affordably install rooftop solar along with deep energy efficiency retrofits.

Impact and Outcomes

Helping more moderate- and low-income households and small businesses deploy solar will provide them with clean, low-cost and stable energy that could reduce their energy bills and enhance grid resilience. Affordable financing that eliminates large capital outlays has dramatically increased access to solar energy for Americans in many states. Additionally, solar thermal installations provide a range of other benefits with hot water and heating capabilities at a lower cost than electricity-producing photovoltaics. Solar thermal can also be used to store energy.

Minnesota’s installed solar capacity growing rapidly. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Minnesota Clean Energy Economy Profile and the Clean Jobs Midwest – Minnesota reports, solar energy in Minnesota is associated with more than 50,000 in-state jobs.  Recently enacted favorable state solar policies and dramatically falling prices point to a very robust future growth trajectory. Recent projections suggest solar in Minnesota will grow from 1 Megawatt in 2009 to approximately 1000 Megawatts by 2019, an exponential increase.

For a robust solar future, we need to find pathways to the following goals:

  • scale up rooftop solar
  • remove high capital cost barrier for solar adoption by moderate- and low-income customers
  • help prepare Minnesota’s solar companies to compete in a growing global market
  • protect consumers
  • comply with Minnesota’s current legal and regulatory framework
  • research other legal and regulatory models for future reforms in this area.


We work closely with solar finance experts, NGOs, utility companies, state officials, and Minnesota solar companies. We will convene key partners to collaboratively arrive at optimal solutions.

Public Utility Commission Expert Intervention

Customer Energy Usage Data

Humphrey School of Affairs faculty member Elizabeth Wilson and Law School faculty member Alexandra Klass submitted comments that were co-signed by ETL faculty director and Law School faculty member Hari Osofsky and ETL executive director Ellen Anderson to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in Docket Number E, G999/CI-12-1344, the Privacy Workgroup Report Track 3, Customer Energy Usage Data (CEUD). The commission opened the docket to inquire into several issues related to energy data usage and privacy.

Our comments stressed that (1) managing energy consumption data is a critical issue for the future planning, management and operation of the electric grid and (2) the legal underpinnings of relevant privacy rights do not preclude reasonable, managed data access.

Access the comments here.

Solar Investment Pathways for the University of Minnesota

The ETL is collaborating with the Institute on the Environment, three other Midwestern universities and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association on a U.S. Department of Energy–funded project called “The Solar Endowment: A PV Investment Roadmap for U.S. Universities and Foundations.” We will engage student solar deployment teams to engage both graduate and undergraduate students in design, project management, solar siting and financing, and institutional investment and governance experience and learning.  Students will work with faculty and consulting experts to develop a responsible and technically detailed foundation, endowment or other investment strategy to present to University of Minnesota leadership so the University can consider significant cost-effective deployment of distributed solar energy. Click here to read more

Minnesota Energy Storage Alliance

The Minnesota Energy Storage Alliance (MESA) was formed by interested volunteer stakeholders, based on the shared view that our state and region will be a strong market for energy storage.  We aspire to be a Midwest forum to share knowledge; connect industry, utilities, researchers, policymakers, regulators, experts, and clean energy advocates; and advance smart policies to support energy storage.   MESA is convened by the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab with support from the McKnight Foundation. Click here to read more

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The Energy Transition Lab is a strategic initiative of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment in partnership with the Law School.
Funding for the Energy Transition Lab is primarily provided by the Institute on the Environment. Other funders include McKnight Foundation, Energy Foundation, Carolyn Foundation, US Department of Energy, Wind Energy Foundation and the University of California Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute. Support for energy storage work is provided by the Minneapolis Foundation, Great River Energy, Mortenson Construction, AES Corporation, Next Era Energy Resources, and General Electric. Funders have no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of any manuscript.