Since last year, I’ve represented CUB on the Technical Committee for the Minnesota Solar Pathways initiative. The initiative, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, is a three-year project exploring strategies to meet Minnesota’s statutory goal of reaching 10 percent solar electricity by 2030.
A Solar Potential Analysis, modeling potential costs of various renewable energy scenarios for Minnesota, is an important step in this effort. That analysis was released today.
The Solar Potential Analysis is another in a growing number of studies that find that a high-renewable electricity future is not only possible, but is probably the best option for Minnesota consumers. It indicates that we could end up paying too much for electricity if we don’t look carefully at much higher levels of wind and solar energy.
Among the report’s conclusions are:
- Solar and wind can serve 70 percent of Minnesota’s electrical load in 2050 at generation costs that are comparable to new natural gas generation. The analysis also found that achieving 10 percent solar by 2025 could have costs comparable to natural gas generation.
- Building extra solar and wind capacity will be considerably less expensive than using energy storage for long-term or seasonal reliability. It may be a bit counterintuitive, but the analysis found it will be cost effective to have surplus wind and solar generation that goes unused at hours when more electricity is being generated than demanded by customers.
- Using other, flexible generation resources in limited amounts will support a high-renewable future. The strategic use of other generation resources, such as natural gas, during brief periods when solar and wind production is low will significantly reduce the storage, solar, and wind capacities needed to serve Minnesota consumers.
- Short-term energy storage is an important part of a high-renewable future. Having some energy storage will smooth out the day-by-day variability of solar and wind generation.
- Strategically shifting when electricity is used can further decrease costs. It is becoming more common for things like vehicles and home water heaters to be powered by electricity. Managing when we charge (or heat) our cars, water, and other appliances can help take advantage of inexpensive renewable energy when it is available. The analysis found this “load shifting” could decrease costs by 10 to 20 percent.
The Solar Potential Analysis took a statewide look at high-renewables scenarios. It does not – and was not intended to – provide precise solutions for particular Minnesota power providers. However, it is a strong signal that, as Minnesota utilities face decisions about which resources to invest in for the next generation of electricity generation, we should carefully consider high levels of renewable energy – possibly much higher levels than we would have thought were feasible just five or 10 years ago.
With this analysis done, the next step in the Minnesota Solar Pathways initiative will be to examine the pros and cons of various options to achieve higher levels of renewable energy, culminating in a Solar Deployment Strategy in 2019.
You can learn more about this initiative and see the full Solar Potential Analysis report at http://mnsolarpathways.org.