University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Energy Transition Lab

Minnesota Model for Rooftop Solar Finance

We are researching models that will help to scale up rooftop solar affordably in Minnesota while strengthening our solar industry base.

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 is small but growing rapidly. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Minnesota Clean Energy Economy Profile, the solar energy sector consists of 85 businesses, a 180 percent increase since 2000, representing over 1,200 jobs. Recently enacted favorable state solar policies and dramatically falling prices point to a very robust future growth trajectory. Large national and international solar companies are seriously considering doing business in Minnesota. Some solar companies and utilities have raised concerns about competitive threats.

Our work is intended 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 have had partner meetings with dozens of individuals, including finance experts, NGOs, utility companies and Minnesota solar companies, and will continue to add other stakeholders. We will convene key partners to collaboratively arrive at optimal solutions. Law School professor Alexandra Klass and law student Samuel Bolstad are providing expert guidance and research.

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

The Energy Transition Lab is a strategic initiative of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment in partnership with the Office of the Vice President of Research and the Law School.
Funding support to the Energy Transition Lab is primarily provided by the Institute on the Environment and the Office of the Vice President for Research. Funders have no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of any manuscript.
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