University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Energy Transition Lab

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ETL is constantly completing projects to make room for new ones. If you can’t find what you’re looking for among active projects, you’ll likely find it here. Here are some useful links to help you navigate your way around what’s here:

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Sun Delegation (UMN)

University of Minnesota Sun Delegation

The SUN Delegation is a program of the Solar Endowment project funded by the DOE Sunshot Initiative and managed by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. The University partners other than the University of Minnesota are Purdue University and the University of Illinois. At the University of Minnesota, the project is being led by the Energy Transition Lab with the guidance of the Institute on the Environment (IonE) and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA).

The University of Minnesota SUN Delegation is made up of over 100 students from Duluth and Twin Cities campuses. SUN Delegation students include both undergraduate and graduate students The purpose of the student‐led initiative was to showcase the investment and programmatic potential of on‐site solar energy projects to university governance boards in an effort to generate investment through the university foundation, advance favorable board policies to govern investments in solar assets (both on and off campus), and provide a road map for universities across the country to deploy PV on their campus and make investments that advance their foundation and sustainability goals.

As a result of our efforts the University made several commitments to solar energy including:

  • Subscribing to Community Solar Gardens
  • Installing solar panels on campus property
  • Participating in Xcel Energy’s Renewable Connect program.


SUN Delegation Advisors:
Lewis Gilbert, COO, Institute on the Environment
Jerome Malmquist, Director of Energy Management
Shane Stennes, Director of Sustainability, Twin Cities Campus
Mindy Granley, Office of Sustainability, Duluth Campus
David Quinby, Stoel Rives, Finance and Law
Beth Mercer-Taylor, Institute on the Environment
Paul Imbertson, Professor at Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Brian Ross, Senior Program Director, Great Plains Institute
Dan Svedarsky, Director of Sustainability, Crookston Campus
Troy Goodnough, Sustainability Director, Morris Campus

Energy, Climate, and Resiliency Project (Twin Cities)

Twin Cities Region Energy, Climate and Resiliency Project

We will work with local leaders to develop regional energy and climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience strategies for the Twin Cities metropolitan region, which encompasses more than 180 local governments.

Impact and Outcomes

Over half of the world’s population and over 82 percent of the U.S. population lives in cities. NASA estimates that 70 percent of global CO2 emissions come from cities. Cities must play a crucial role in our energy transition and solutions to climate change. The Twin Cities metropolitan region contains over half of Minnesota’s population. Less than 25 percent of the metro population lives in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, making a metro-wide regional focus critical. The Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council has broad authority over those city’s land use, transportation, water and energy planning policies, and has included climate change in its Thrive MSP 2040 goals. Our goal is to help cities and the Met Council adopt and implement energy, climate, and resiliency goals, and leverage the power of coordinated action.

A great deal of research and guidance for local governments exists in many formats. Our work in this area may include providing more tailored models and examples for cities to take steps; synthesizing existing research to prepare guides for proven cost-effective, “no regrets,” high-impact strategies; convening local leaders to share learning from research, peer cities and other regions; and developing easy-to-use, low-cost tools, perhaps in the form of an app, that will allow cities to explore different options for optimal mitigation, adaptation and resiliency outcomes. The knowledge assets created by this work ideally will be applicable to other cities, regions and the state of Minnesota. For example, the ETL is working with Duluth in planning its energy future.


We are partnering with Minnesota Greenstep Cities, the Great Plains Institute and others and reaching out to Met Council members and staff, local mayors and business leaders. We are collaborating with University of Minnesota experts in disciplines including energy law and regulation, urban and regional planning, transportation, environmental modeling and urban systems analysis, sustainable building design, informatics, and many more research areas. Student researchers will gain real-life experience and knowledge contributing to the project.

Energy Future Planning (Duluth)

Duluth’s Energy Future Planning

Northeastern Minnesota is uniquely situated with access to enormous natural resources, from the world’s largest freshwater lake, Superior, to thousands of acres of forests.  Duluth is an outdoors-oriented city overlooking Lake Superior, with an industrial base.  In 2015, Duluth’s downtown streets will be rebuilt, creating an important opportunity for upgrades to the legacy district steam heating system.  The city has numerous projects and grants converging around opportunities for a more resilient and more locally-sourced energy system.

Our project  brought together University and outside experts in bioenergy, solar, energy storage, law, economics, sustainable building design, combined heat and power,  and other disciplines to analyze forward-looking energy scenarios for Northeastern Minnesota, and to provide actionable, cost-effective models for Net Zero Energy building retrofits. We worked collaboratively with the partners to develop detailed research and analysis of three major clean energy pathways for the city of Duluth including:

  • An IMPLAN economic modeling of proposed biomass and solar energy initiatives in NE Minnesota.
  • a model for strategies to reach net-zero or carbon-neutral municipal buildings.
  • a summary of combined heat and power (CHP) barriers and opportunities in Minnesota

Read about each of these three activities here.


Ecolibrium 3, the city of Duluth, the Labovitz School of Business and Economics, UMD, the Center for Sustainable Building Research, Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP), Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), RREAL, Great Plains Institute, Rocky Mountain Institute Duluth Energy Systems, and other University of Minnesota partners.

Environmental and Energy Justice Capstone Projects (UMN, Twin Cities, Alaska)

Local Environmental and Energy Justice Projects

We are working on several projects, aided by the University’s Environmental and Energy Justice Capstone course, to advance environmental and energy justice in the Twin Cities and rural Alaska. We are collaborating with (1) the College of Design’s Metropolitan Design Center to assist Edina, Minneapolis and St. Paul with initiatives to cap freeways, (2) Met Council staff on a comparative assessment of environmental justice standards and measures in metropolitan planning organizations’ transportation planning, and (3) the Northwest Arctic Borough in Alaska to develop a renewable energy ordinance that would help to lower energy costs for homes and businesses.

Impact and Outcomes

Freeway Capping in the Twin Cities

The Twin Cities’ freeways pose a variety of environmental justice concerns. They span 206 centerline miles and displace 6 to 7 million people. Many of them have been built in low-income communities of color, dividing and isolating them. Freeways have significant pollution fallout for 1,600 feet on either side of the freeway, creating health concerns for communities that also often lack adequate access to parks, recreation areas and open space.

Capping freeways through “green lids” potentially addresses some of these concerns. A structure over a freeway could mechanically ventilate pollutants, improve land values, and provide opportunities for developing park, business and residential spaces. Three cities in the Twin Cities metropolitan region — Edina, Minneapolis and St. Paul — are embarking upon pilot projects to create such lids. If successful, this approach could become a model that could be replicated in those three cities and throughout the metropolitan region. But it also raises important concerns that would need to be addressed, such as potential gentrification that could displace existing residents and businesses.

The College of Design’s Metropolitan Design Center is designing these freeways caps. Our project team is assisting them and the cities they are working with to address legal and regulatory issues that such green lids pose.

Environmental Justice in Metroregional Transportation Planning

The Met Council is the Twin Cities’ regional policy-making body, planning agency and service provider. It recently adopted a new 30-year plan for the region called Thrive 2040 MSP, which sets policy foundations for the council’s systems and policy plans. These include the Transportation Policy Plan, Water Resources Policy Plan, Regional Parks Policy Plan and Housing Policy Plan. Chapter 10 of the Transportation Policy Plan focuses on equity and environmental justice. It not only lays out the federal standards — Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 12898 — but also articulates broader regional goals.

Met Council staff has requested that Environmental and Energy Justice Capstone students conduct a neutral assessment of the extent to which other metropolitan planning organizations around the country have established broader standards for environmental justice than the federal government in their transportation planning and how environmental justice is incorporated into their competitive federal funding processes. The team is examining approaches in other places around the country and categorizing them to provide an analysis of the different types of metro regional approaches to environmental justice and how the Met Council’s approach compares.

Renewable Energy Solutions to Energy Poverty in Rural Alaska

Alaska’s Northwest Arctic Borough, the second largest in the state, was founded in 1986 as a home rule borough. The borough covers about 36,000 square miles of land and 3,560 miles of shoreline, which makes it roughly the size of Indiana. More than 80 percent of its residents are descended from Inupiat Eskimos, who settled the area around 10,000 years ago. Many borough residents continue to maintain a subsistence lifestyle, making food security a top priority.

The Northwest Arctic Borough has a subarctic climate. Its winters are long and snowy, and its summers are short and mild. Temperatures range from –52 to 85 F, with average annual snowfall of 47 inches. This climate creates the need for significant heating energy over the winter months. Like those of many rural communities in Alaska, its residents rely largely upon diesel fuel to supply that heat. The high cost of this fuel — ranging from $6 to $11 per gallon — makes it difficult for residents to afford needed energy.

The Northwest Arctic Borough is interested in finding ways to encourage the development of more renewable energy to help bring energy costs down. To support that effort, Environmental and Energy Justice Capstone students are helping the borough draft a renewable energy ordinance with a particular focus on solar energy as the most financially feasible source of renewable energy. This ordinance will provide a legal mechanism to help the borough foster development of renewable energy development as a less expensive source of energy for the people living there. The class is providing examples of renewable energy ordinances with a focus on solar and wind energy and a proposal for how those examples might be translated in an ordinance for the borough and its communities.


We are partnering with the College of Design’s Metropolitan Design Center, Twin Cities Metropolitan Council staff, and the Northwest Arctic Borough’s mayor and key staff.

Modernizing Minnesota’s Grid (Energy Storage)

Modernizing Minnesota’s Grid:  An Economic Analysis of Energy Storage Opportunities

The goal of this project was to research, analyze, and engage stakeholders about planning for integration of battery storage into Minnesota’s electrical grid.  Through this project, ETL hosted two high-level Energy Storage Strategy Workshops with over 60 energy sector expert stakeholders. The first workshop identified areas for in-depth analysis, while the second focused on recommended next steps.

Based on input use-case and system-wide modeling was done by national experts, our consultants Strategen Consulting and Vibrant Clean Energy (VCE), with input from MISO. We then prepared an extensive written report “Modernizing Minnesota’s Grid:  An Economic Analysis of Energy Storage in Minnesota.” Significant takeaways from the workshops and analysis include:

  • When environmental benefits are considered, solar + storage is a cost-effective alternative to new natural gas peaking plants in Minnesota, with significant carbon reduction benefits.
  • Approximately 1800 MW of new natural gas combustion turbines (CTs) are planned for Minnesota by 2028, primarily for meeting peak demand.
  • Battery storage + solar PV is more cost-effective than a peaking plant today, and storage alone is a more cost-effective way to meet energy demand beyond the year 2022.

The report included ideas for next steps brainstormed and prioritized by stakeholders, such as increasing experience through commercially viable demonstration projects, designed to meet system needs, and specifically targeting the opportunity for solar and storage in the near term.  Other recommendations for the Public Utilities Commission included utilizing better planning and modeling tools, procurement processes, rate design, valuation, and cost recovery mechanisms as well as continued education, analysis, and identification of opportunities for system improvements with storage.

The report was presented to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on July 11, 2017

Partners: MISO, Strategen Consulting a, d Vibrant Clean Energy (VCE)

Minnesota Clean Energy: Economic Impacts and Policy Drivers

Minnesota Clean Energy: Economic Impacts and Policy Drivers

Using the JEDI modeling tool, we analyzed all proposed wind and solar energy projects in the MISO interconnection queue to understand their potential jobs and economic impact, and to understand the impacts, if any, of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) policies on utility, Independent Power Producer (IPP), and customer investment in renewable energy in Minnesota.  Projects at this stage have a high likelihood of completion, given that developers have already invested significant time and money in them.  The analysis found that the ITC and PTC was driving investment decisions, and found that if all the projects were developed, they would result in approximately 3,987 installed Megawatts of additional renewable energy capacity, $7.09 billion in direct investment, over 5,000 jobs related to construction alone, with up to 20,000 overall jobs from increased economic activity in the region, and $10.1 million in annual payments to landowners for wind leases.  Our graduate research assistant mapped the proposed projects and found an interesting result:  most of the jobs would be created in 19 rural Minnesota counties, many of which have not previously experienced renewable energy development.

Read the Full report here

Partners:  Wind on the Wires and the Wind Energy Foundation

Energy Storage Research and Demonstration Collaborative

Energy Storage Research and Demonstration Collaborative

For this project, the ETL research team investigated energy storage technologies that might be appropriate for University of Minnesota campuses, in particular, the Morris campus.  The Morris researchers also did an in-depth analysis of energy usage data on campus to better understand how storing electricity in temporally and spatially distinct applications could result in cost savings and better utilization of renewable energy.  For the second part of the project, Energy Transition Lab organized and led a 6 day trip to California and Washington State with a delegation of 12 participants to tour energy storage facilities and microgrids and to meet with several dozen experts.

Partners: the University of Minnesota Duluth, University of Minnesota Morris, Xcel Energy, Ecolibrium3, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission

Minnesota Energy Storage Alliance (MESA)

Minnesota Energy Storage Alliance (MESA)

The Energy Transition Lab hosted the first Minnesota Energy Storage Summit in July 2015. After the summit, ETL convened interested stakeholders and created a new organization called the Minnesota Energy Storage Alliance, which seeks to inform decision makers and other energy stakeholders about energy storage policy, regulatory, and technology issues.

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. We are now Minnesota’s most prominent voice on energy storage issues.

MESA also collaborated with the ETL to organize the Midwestern Energy Storage Summit.

Partners:  Xcel Energy, Wind on the Wires, IPS Solar, Mortenson Construction, Great River Energy, Great Plains Institute, Fresh Energy, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, MNSEIA, Minnesota Power, MISO, Minnesota Department of Commerce, Par Energy Solutions, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Center for Energy and the Environment and others

Solar Energy in Minnesota

Solar Energy in Minnesota

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

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.

Corporate Energy Transition

Corporate Energy Transition

In order to engage corporations in discussions on energy transition, Energy Transition Lab Executive Director Ellen Anderson organized several roundtable meetings with corporate sustainability leaders to discuss the Paris climate negotiations (Fall 2015); and to discuss renewable energy policy in collaboration with Lt. Governor Tina Smith (Fall 2016). At the same Prof Hari Osofsky is researching global corporate energy transition issues.


Many Minnesota corporations such as Target, Tennant, Cargill, Best Buy, General Mills, etc as well as CERES and the Sustainable Growth Coalition, the government of Australia.

Arctic Energy Exploration and Energy Justice

Arctic Unconventional Energy Exploration and Energy Justice Project

Impact and Outcomes

Improved technology for hydraulic fracturing and deepwater drilling has dramatically increased U.S. domestic oil and gas production. Climate change–induced melting has made the Arctic increasingly accessible to offshore oil and gas operations. The Arctic is estimated to contain 13 percent of global undiscovered oil and 30 percent of global undiscovered natural gas, with approximately 80 percent of it offshore.

Bordering governments, standard setting entities, indigenous communities and corporations, along with policy makers and academic experts, are trying to address safety concerns and justice issues. The oil industry and its regulators continue to deal with the repercussions of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in regulating Arctic offshore drilling. The complexity of relevant law and institutions at many levels of government — paired with the harsh physical environment — creates major challenges for effective regulation.

In 2014-2016, the ETL helped to develop improved approaches to regulation and standard setting for Arctic offshore energy development in collaboration with key corporate and indigenous stakeholders as the U.S. assumes leadership of the Arctic Council in 2015. As discussed under Local Projects, ETL at the same time worked to foster energy justice for rural indigenous Alaskan communities through improving renewable energy access.


Oil companies, Alaskan and other Arctic region indigenous communities, relevant government agencies, academic experts

Minnesota Jobs Project

Minnesota Jobs Project:  A Guide to Creating jobs in Energy Efficiency

For this project, ETL served as an academic partner in Minnesota for a national set of similar reports.  Our role was to advise, connect with stakeholders, and edit the report.  The report included extensive research, interviews, and roundtables with stakeholders and experts.  It analyzed the energy efficiency cluster potential, identified barriers, and recommended state policy options to grow the industry.  Finally, modeling showed that with forward-thinking policies, Minnesota’s energy efficiency industry could support over 26,000 direct, indirect, and induced jobs annually through 2030, a significant increase over the current sector.

Read the full report here

The e21 Initiative

The e21 Initiative

Ellen Anderson of the Energy Transition Lab is a collaborator on a diverse and highly collaborative team led by the Great Plains Institute called the e21 Initiative. The e21 Initiative is working towards the development of a more customer-centric and sustainable framework for utility regulation in Minnesota. This new framework will better align public policy goals, customer expectations, and new technology with utility revenue generation.

Impacts and Outcomes

The Phase 1 report of the e21 Initiative highlights the need for a new regulatory framework in Minnesota in order to align traditional utility business models and regulatory policy with the new realities of Minnesota’s energy marketplace. The goal of the e21 Initiative is to help update the ways that utilities are regulated by encouraging a shift away from a utility business model which provides little customer choice and shifting away from a regulatory system that rewards the construction of large capital-intensive power plants towards one that rewards utilities for achieving performance outcomes such as energy efficiency, reliability, affordability, emissions reductions, and predictable rates.

The Great Plain’s Institute website explains that the e21 Initiative aims to map the transition to a new regulatory model which:

  • Aligns an economically viable utility model with state and federal public policy goals
  • Provides universal access to electricity services, including affordable services to low income customers
  • Provides for fair, reasonable, and competitive rates
  • Enables the delivery of services as well as options that are valued by customers
  • Recognizes and fairly values grid services and “distributed energy resource” services
  • Assures system reliability and enhances resilience and security while addressing customer privacy concerns
  • Fosters investment that optimizes economic and operational efficiency of the system as a whole
  • Reduces regulatory administrative costs wherever possible
  • Facilitates innovation and the implementation of new technologies.


This project is being led by the Great Plains Institute with funding from the Energy Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, Xcel Energy and Minnesota Power. Other key partners include Center for Energy and Environment, Energy Systems Consulting Service, George Washington University Law School, and other key stakeholders.

For more information on the e21 Initiative click here

National Disaster Resilience Competition

National Disaster Resilience Competition

Ellen Anderson of the Energy Transition Lab is part of the City of Duluth’s planning team for the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC) grant proposal which will be submitted to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Outcomes and Impacts

In June, 2012 the city of Duluth received a record 10” of rain triggering the worst flood event in the city’s history. The flooding damaged up to 400 households in Duluth and destroyed millions of dollars worth of infrastructure. This event catalyzed a new focus on resiliency and natural disaster preparedness within the city.

The City of Duluth and the State of Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) are currently partnering to pursue a National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC) grant offered through HUD. The city is pursuing the grant in order to ensure that households with limited resources that were impacted by the flood events of 2012 will have the opportunity to receive assistance to make necessary repairs on their homes. If granted, the funds will be utilized to help residents of the city of Duluth to rebuild after the flooding events of 2012 and to conduct projects related to housing, infrastructure, economic development and the environment in order to increase the city’s resilience to future natural disasters.


Key partners in this project include Ecolibrium3, the City of Duluth, and DEED.

You can also explore the content on our legacy pages: Local Scale, Minnesota, National/Global, and Partnerships.

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