University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Energy Transition Lab

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

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

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)

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

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.


Connect with ETL
twitter social icon mail social icon facebook social icon