Minnesota Electricity Could Be 100% Renewable, 100% Local

by John Farrell, reposted from Energy Self Reliant States

A new report released by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research shows that Minnesota can meet 100% of its electricity needs with in-state wind and solar power, and (with ample energy efficiency investments) at a comparable cost to its existing electricity supply.

The notion that solar and wind energy cannot be the mainstay of an electricity generation system because they are intermittent is incorrect…. It is technically and economically feasible to meet the entire 2007 electricity demand of Xcel Energy [in Minnesota] using only renewable energy generation combined with storage technology and energy efficiency improvements…. A 100 percent renewable energy-based electricity system for Minnesota increases rates by a mere 1-2 cents per kilowatt hour when sufficient reasonable and economical investments are made in energy efficiency

The renewable energy mix would include approximately 13,000 megawatts of wind power and 4,600 megawatts of distributed solar PV.  The expenditures for the new renewable energy, storage (via underground compressed air) and energy efficiency would pump more than $90 billion into the state’s economy and create 50,000 jobs.

With the combination of new renewable energy and significant energy efficiency, electricity rates rise slightly but Minnesota ratepayers are held relatively harmless. The following chart from the report illustrates, with some relatively conservative estimates about the cost of wind and solar:

Cost for 100% renewable electricity in Minnesota from IEER

While the Minnesota-specific findings are ground-breaking, the paradigm shift suggested for the electricity system is equally profound:

The conventional notion of a “peak load” needs to be replaced in designing an electricity system with a high proportion of solar and wind energy…. The crunch time may be during periods when the wind and solar supply are low relative to demand … “relational system peak.”… Instead of the peak load that drives marginal investments in generation as at present, dealing with the relational system peak will require comprehensive consideration of investments throughout the system – generation, demand, and storage (though not necessarily by utilities in all cases).

The following chart from the report illustrates how wind, solar, other renewables, and storage adjust to meet customer demand during a typical week in July, with both supply and demand being flexible.

Matching Supply and Demand with 100% renewable energy and storage in Minnesota, by IEER

This fundamental shift is an issue we’ve covered before, the challenge of reconciling a centralized electricity system with decentralized renewable energy resources.

Overall, Renewable Minnesota is a stellar report, incredibly thorough in its analysis and profound in its conclusions.  It’s a must read for energy policy makers everywhere.

John Farrell is a Senior Researcher at Institute for Local Self Reliance. This piece was originally published at Energy Self Reliant States.

11 Responses to Minnesota Electricity Could Be 100% Renewable, 100% Local

  1. denim says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that the price of uranium, coal, and even biomass may be subject to future commodity inflation, but not sunshine and wind.

  2. Leif says:

    It cannot be emphasized enough: The energy costs all stay within the community state or Nation. Not making multi-billionaires, or failed perto-states that hate our guts. Then the value of a healthier population and the dollars saved on that front should be calculated. My modest solar PV pays for my total home and car energy use per year. Granted that takes tax incentives but I say that you already pay more for fossil than you realize! Double the cost of energy it doubles the value of my system. If it is paying for everything already, what do I care what it costs. I would like to see the cost of energy priced at the cost of ALL Social Services, Military, Education, Health care, the Whole, and say good-by to all taxes, but hello to a sustainable future!

  3. Dave Bradley says:

    Minnesota has an awesome wind resource, rated at something like 180 GW delivered basis, without really even trying. That is at least 20 times what Minnesota uses for all electricity. And since most of this wind energyis supplied by winds averaging more than 8 m/s at hub heights, so an average net yield would be arond 40% using moderate wind speed units.

    As for pumped hydro, all you have to do is drive north from Duluth along the Lake Superior coastline. Storage of ALL that wind could be easily done via pumped hydro, but 20 times current consumption is not really needed.

    Why on earth would you need ANY PV at a real cost north of 40 cents/kw-hr when there is essentially limitless wind at 4 to 6 cents/kw-hr, on a devoid of subsidies and with a FIT basis. Maybe 5 to 7 cents/kw-hr after adding sufficient pumped hydro (about 10 GW and 100 GW-hr worth). The only reason to use PV is to RAISE electrticity prices.

    In Minnesota, due to precipitation and overcast conditions, you would be lucky to get 10% average output from PVs. That 5 GW of PV capacity could readliy be supplied by 1.2 GW of wind capacity. That 5GW of PV would cost at least $20 billion in the US (more if only small systems were used), while the wind turbines might cost $2.5 billion installed.

    You have the 2010 US Wind Map, Minnesota version image at the top of the article. Why don’t you poke around on that website and check out the actaual calculated numbers? Is electricity at too low a price (i.e all wind) a problem?

    Just using standard wind turbines (such as a GE 1.5 sle 1.5 MW on an 80 meter tall tower), the estimated 1,679,480 GW-hr/yr translates into an average delivered output of 191.6 GW. Talk about more than a mouthful. That is over 40% of the average electrical consumption of the entire continental US!


    Part of doing renewables is to use what is locally available, and appropriate. So get with the program, eh?

    Dave Bradley

  4. Hot Rod says:

    It’s certainly a ground-breaking study. Pages 41 onwards on storage, the key technology to make this feasible, are illuminating. There’ll be a fair bit of ground-breaking for CAES.

  5. David B. Benson says:

    I read the (preliminary in nature) study for Minnesota. The plan is basically wind balanced by CAES or [pumped hydro with a bit of solar PV through in along with some (vary good thoughts about) demand management. But it won’t meet reliability requirements for reasons which I illustrate by personal observations below.

    I have lived here in far eastern Washington state for over 41 years. In that time there have been two statewide air quality alerts that I recall. Both were synoptic (at least meso) scale stagnent highs; no wind to speak of. The most recent was last autumn when the event persisted for about 4 weeks. Now I suppose the same occurs in Minnesota; it certainly does south of there in Texas.

    It is not economic to build any combination of CAES, pumped hydro and standby coal burners which are only going to be used at highly infrequent intervals for such extreme events, or even shorter periods with no wind. The (highly preliminary) study failed to consider such events as there were none during the study year of 2007 CE.

  6. John Tucker says:

    I wish this discussed the proposed storage technology more, the efficiency of the process and the total lifetime carbon footprint of the entire system.

  7. Dave Bradley says:


    The efficiency of pumped hydro is 75% to 80%, and the major energy loss is the pumping, as turbine/generators are at least 95% efficient. These pumped hydro (PH) systems would have at least a 50 year lifetime, and based on the rocks in the Mesabi Range, 100 years is quite possible.

    PH can buffer variable demand and variable supply. Odds are, western Minnesota winds would also be interconnected with the Dakotas (even windier), and the Lake Superior coastline PH could also buffer them.

    Each storage pund would be around 1 square mile, with an avergae head of at least 300 feet, but in some cases, up to 1000 feet or more. Average operating cost is a penny per kw-hr, plus the inefficiency that is unavoidable. These work incredibly dependably, and the US already has 18 GW of them. To go ALL renewable, we will need a lot more than that. These would also provide grid services, and would interconnect distant locations. Those rare days when it is not windy in western Minnesota are easily made up for from Canada and the Dakotas and Iowa. That is just not a problem.

  8. Joel Huberman says:

    Thanks, Dave, for both your comments. I suppose the report authors felt that the solar PV, which you feel is too expensive, might be needed in case of very rare–perhaps never–cases of prolonged absence of wind, as envisioned by David Benson. In any cases, solar PV prices are falling rapidly, so including some solar PV in the mix may prove to be less expensive insurance than you’re envisioning.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    You’ll need to provide references for the claim regarding being able to import enough from neighbors. Synoptic scale stagnent air would affect neighbors at considerable distance so they wouldn’t have any wind either. Manitoba probably currently exports about as much as is possible so don’t count on any more hydro from there.

    This study, which I read the entire thing, fails to make its case; it demonstrates an astounding lack of understanding of electric grid operation and reliability requirements.

  10. Dave Bradley says:


    Yes, more electricty tramsmission lines would be needed. For example, anothe 10 to 20 FW to the not yet installed pumped storageunits on the western and northern side of Lake Superior (the “big battery”). These would also serve as interconnection points between the Great Plains and Great Lakes, as well as allowing interconnections to places like Chicago and SE Michigan. And if worse comes to worse, there’s always biomass backup. We can even store someof the electricty as reduced CO2 (methanol, ethanol) and reduced N2 (ammonia), which can also be used for those rare events. And they are rare. Fuels like those can work just fine in jet engines.