Could Minnesota get by on 100 percent renewables?

Minnesota could affordably meet all of its electricity needs from wind and solar power, if those sources were coupled with the right mix of energy storage and efficiency improvements.

That’s the conclusion of a new report released today by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), a Maryland-based policy research group.

“It’s a first cut on how you would maintain the same level of reliability” — and cost — using only renewables, says Arjun Makhijani, IEER’s president and senior engineer.

IEER is a member of RE-AMP, which funds Midwest Energy News.

Under the 100-percent renewables scenario described in the report, Minnesota would be less vulnerable to swings in fossil fuel prices, it would have cleaner air and water, and it would only pay the equivalent of another 1-2 cents per kilowatt hour after energy efficiency gains are factored in.

Makhijani is author of Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy, a 2007 book that argues the nation should move away from all forms of fossil fuel and nuclear power. The report on Minnesota renewables is among the first to take a closer look at the technical and economic feasibility of that goal on an individual state level.

The report examines Minnesota’s electricity needs for every hour of the year (based on 2007 data from Xcel Energy) and compares it to the potential wind and solar generation in the state during those same times. It finds that for most of the year, a bulked up commercial wind and rooftop solar sector could satisfy all of that demand, with a 12 percent cushion on top.

There are gaps, however, just like there are periods now, such as on hot summer days, when electricity demand exceeds utilities’ normal generating capacity, which forces them to fire up dirtier and expensive backup generators. Under an all-renewable scenario, there would be times in late summer when demand would exceed the state’s likely potential wind and solar power.

Just as with today’s peak load challenges, strategic investments in energy efficiency could eliminate many of these deficits between demand and generation. Makhijani calls the gaps that remain “relational peaks,” those crunch times when renewable generation falls below demand.

Under Makhijani’s vision, this is where energy storage comes in. Instead of turning to gas or oil peaking plants, utilities and grid operators could fill these gaps with a mix of storage technologies, including compressed air and pumped hydro energy storage. For its cost analysis, IEER used compressed air energy storage.

The report forecasts that transitioning from gas, coal and nuclear to wind, solar and storage would increase the price of electricity, but it says much of that increase could be masked by gains in energy efficiency. “If we do efficiency right, it can make a lot of things happen,” says Makhijani.

IEER says more study is needed, including closer looks at state-wide energy efficiency and storage potential, as well as regional, Midwest studies of demand dispatch, storage, “relational peaks,” and other grid-level issues.

Makhijani says moving toward a 100-percent renewable electricity system would be consistent with Minnesota’s existing goals, such as its legislative pledge to cut greenhouse emissions 80 percent by 2050. He says Minnesota should set a new goal of a 100 percent renewable energy standard, with realistic benchmarks and milestones.

The state’s public utility commission should also require utilities to include a 100-percent renewable model in their resource planning documents, he says.

“You’re not going to get there if you don’t put the idea on the table,” Makhijani says.

Dan Haugen is an Energy Journalism Fellow at Midwest Energy News. Contact him at

Photo by 4Neus via Creative Commons

9 thoughts on “Could Minnesota get by on 100 percent renewables?

  1. “For its cost analysis, IEER used compressed air energy storage.”

    As I understand it, if you’re relying on typical CAES; they couple with combustion turbines when supplying energy, so this is not a “100% Renewable” scenario… unless that is you’re burning some kind of biofuel. Not that I’m opposed to CAES even if not using biofuel, but don’t consider it 100% “Clean” even if the energy stored is only hydro/wind/solar.

    “You’re not going to get there unless you put the idea on the table.”

    I’d have to agree with that. And don’t forget the role various forms of Demand Response could play in all this.

  2. The City of Cincinnati, Ohio is in the process of trying to purchase 100% renewable energy if it is price competitive. They are currently soliciting bids now.

    The city council has held hearings on this issue and have approved the purchase. The residents will also have the option to purchase renewable energy if they so choose.

  3. There is no way using wind and solar can be as cost effective as other more conventional sources of power. Add to that the problem with intermittent wind, no available storage, and the studies that show that wind turbines do absolutely nothing to reduce our CO2 emissions and you have to start to ask why we would want to do something this environmentally reckless when there is no benefit! RE-AMP was recently a hot topic in Minnesota, where an investigative journalist attempted to expose the tentacles of the monster that has a strangle-hold on common sense with regard to energy policy. If we pepper this state with the turbines required to produce enough energy to provide for households alone, we will have an environmental disaster of biblical proportions down the road, when we realize that we needed bats and birds – and man cannot make something to replace them. This is ridiculous, ludicrous and dangerous.

  4. Complete nonsense. IEER is a rabid anti-nuclear organization.

  5. So, does anyone have a critique of the study that doesn’t consist entirely of ad hominem attacks?

  6. The IEER study is using Typical Meteorological Year (TMY) data and utilizes no actual semiconductor (Silicon or CIGS) data. Am referring to page 23 of the report. This is inaccurate. For accurate on silicon data please refer to the link below. The TMY data is about 10 to 15% optimistic. While this may seem small, most energy outputs have to optimistic and err on the side of over production rather than under production.

    Such over estimates could harm our renewable energy industry in over promising and under delivery.

  7. Wind and solar combined are currently 3% of our electric supply and 1% of total energy supply. There is no storage supply to compensate for the erratic nature of those sources. Imagine a warm muggy summer night when all AC’s run and there isn’t a ‘breath of air’. There is no place on earth where wind or solar has replaced a fossil fuel power plant.
    All that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue work on those technologies, but let’s not kid ourselves.
    REW, professional member, Geological Society of America and the American Nuclear Society.

  8. As a family and a business residing in the middle of the AWA Goodhue wind project in Goodhue County, Minnesota, we have found this and other wind projects to have serious environmental impacts and deceiving efficiency numbers. Since I just saw this particular story by Midwest Energy air on FOX 9 news this morning (March 7) and in combination, heard the AWA wind rep say yesterday in my town hall that AWA would resubmit a revised Avian Bat Protection Plan as soon as early May without completing the asked for surveys and studies by the MPUC(the ABPP was denied by the Minnesota PUC Feb. 23), we are finding it impossible to take the renewable industry seriously, or the media seriously as fact finders. Wind and solar are too much about the money: getting subsidies and stimulus money directly out of the U.S. Treasury, and their own propaganda to prop up the industry. Thank you for taking my comments.

  9. There are plenty of studies that have been done by Spain, Denmark, Portugal, Germany and even China that show that renewables are eonomically unsustainable, kill jobs, and that wind turbines do absolutely nothing to reduce CO2 emissions. But the groupies for RE-AMP choose to ignore those and carry on as if this is meaningless drivel. The other aspect of “wind” that is ignored by RE-AMP et. al is the environmental devastation. These things make no more sense now than they did when CIA’s John Hull bought 2,000 acres and put them up with taxpayer money in the 80’s – Carter Administration. Google John Hull and Iran-Contra. At what point do the folks at RE-AMP actually read something scientific and understand that these things will do nothing to curb global warming, but are only making our planetary problems worse?