University of Minnesota
Office of the Vice President for Research

Research Advancement homefiller

Convergence Colloquia

Renewable Energy

The renewable energy colloquium on October 9, 2015 brought together experts, practitioners, industry, and community leaders from across the U and state to hold a focused dialogue about how we can advance renewable energy in Minnesota and beyond.

Read the report: Renewable Energy

Serendipity grants awarded

Energy Storage Research and Demonstration Collaborative

Ellen Anderson, Executive Director, Energy Transition Lab (PI)

U of M Collaborators: Troy Goodnough, Director, Office of Sustainability, U of M Morris (Co-PI); Bryan Hermann, Vice Chancellor, Finance and Facilities, U of M Morris (Co-PI); Alison Hoxie, Assistant Professor, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, U of M Duluth (Co-PI); Arne Kildegaard, Professor and Division Chair, Social Sciences, U of M Morris (Co-PI); Michael Reese, Director, Renewable Energy, West Central Research and Outreach Center (Co-PI)

External Collaborators: Matt Stupnik, Chief Operator Officer and Co-Owner, Cedar Creek Energy (Co-PI); Patrick Holt, Design Consultant, Minnesota Solar Sales

Energy Storage is a linchpin of our global transition to lower carbon, more renewable, efficient, flexible, and “smart” energy systems. Minnesota has excellent fundamental research, but we need research at the demonstration level to test technologies, grid integration, value streams, and legal and regulatory structures. We propose an Energy Storage Research and Demonstration Collaborative. This Phase 1 “seed” grant is to conduct a literature and research review; form an interdisciplinary team across UMN campuses, including external expert stakeholders in law, policy, economics, engineering, buildings, and social engagement; pilot small scale storage on U of M Morris campus and evaluate efficiency, peak demand, greenhouse gas reduction, grid benefits, regulatory constraints, customer behavior, and other metrics for community scale, behind the meter storage; identify models and conduct site visits with high potential for further fundamental and applied research in Minnesota; collaborate with industry, utilities, communities, policy makers, and regulators to create set of agreed upon research priorities for storage at customer, distribution, and bulk power scale, including non-battery storage. In Phase 2, with unified agenda among key stakeholders, we will seek additional funding from utility and industry partnerships, U.S. Department of Energy, and state of Minnesota for larger scale research and development (R&D) activities.

A Systems Approach to Communities’ Renewable Energy Assets

Tom Fisher, Director, Metropolitan Design Center, College of Design (PI)

U of M Collaborators: Lewis Gilbert, Managing Director, Institute on the Environment (Co-PI); Richard Graves, Director, Center for Sustainable Building Research, College of Design (Co-PI); Lissa Pawlisch, Director, Clean Energy Resource Teams, Extension (Co-PI)

External Collaborators: Rolf Nordstrom, President and CEO, Great Plains Institute (Co-PI); Jeremy Kalin, CEO, Eutectics (Co-PI); Kenneth Smith, CEO, Ever-Green Energy (Co-PI)

For each major infrastructure system (energy, water, transportation, IT, waste, etc.) there exists, today, the knowledge and expertise to help communities become more sustainable based on the state-of-the-art locally, nationally and globally. What is missing is an entity that has the resources and on-going ability to draw on expertise across all of those infrastructure systems and bring it to bear in one community after another in a timely way and at scale. This project will develop a business plan for “on-call sustainability SWAT Teams” that can be deployed to help interested communities. The integration of renewable resources in communities demands a holistic perspective that, in turn, requires the involvement of diverse points of view in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. To develop a SWAT-team strategy for dealing with renewable resources, it needs the involvement of the university’s research community as well as the policy, management, and finance expertise of the nonprofit and for-profit sectors to make sure that the plan makes sense economically as well as environmentally.

Toward a Statewide Energy Data Repository

Richard Graves, Director, Center for Sustainable Building Research, College of Design (PI)

U of M Collaborators: Ellen Anderson, Executive Director, Energy Transition Lab (Co-PI); Alex Klass, Professor, Law School (Co-PI); Elizabeth Wilson, Professor, Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, Humphrey School of Public Affairs

External Collaborators: Becky Alexander, Researcher and Design, LHB, Inc. (Co-PI); Brendon Slotterback, Program Officer, McKnight Foundation; Rick Carter, Senior Vice President, LHB, Inc.; Drew Quirk, Product Developer, Xcel Energy; Kevin Marquardt, Regulatory Analyst; Ryan Hentges, Vice President for Corporate Services, Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative

Based on the premise that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, this project focuses on overcoming a major barrier to energy management in Minnesota: the lack of access to consistent energy consumption data at a community scale. Creating a public reporting mechanism for localized energy data will facilitate the development of targeted energy reduction programs that enable the state to meet its energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals. This project will advance efforts to establish a statewide energy data repository by achieving initial buy-in from utilities and policy makers and producing an outline of next steps for continued progress toward this goal. A multi-disciplinary team will develop initial recommendations for the energy data repository based on past work and new case study research. Along with proposing specific energy reporting requirements, the team will consult with policy-makers to evaluate the feasibility of legislative action and to establish an achievable path toward repository implementation. The team will engage utility stakeholders in an evaluation of the recommendations to estimate the impact on utilities and predict the likelihood of voluntary utility participation. By integrating stakeholder feedback into the recommendations, the team will produce a road map to achieving a statewide energy data repository.

Building Partnerships for Complete Utilization of Municipal Wastewater Streams

Roger Ruan, Professor, Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences (PI)

U of M Collaborators: Paul Chen, Associate Research Professor and Program Director, Center for Biorefining, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences (Co-PI); Ellen Anderson, Executive Director, Energy Transition Lab

External Collaborators: Jason Willett, Assistant General Manager and Director, Environmental Services, Metropolitan Council (Co-PI); Dongyan Mu, Professor, Sustainability Science, Kean University (Co-PI); Timothy Nolan, Principal State Planner, MN Pollution Control Agency; Dave Slade, Executive Director, Renewable Energy Group; Hoon Ge, President, MEG Corp; Rod Larkins, Senior Director, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute

Each year, the Metropolitan Council Environment Services (MCES) Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants treat more than 100,000 million gallons of wastewater and at the same time generate 1,000 tons of scum, 500 million gallons of centrate, and 85 million kg of dry sludge. The solid waste streams are either used as landfill or direct burning. Our previous research has demonstrated that additional economic and environmental values can be recovered from both the water and solid wastes. To develop and implement new technologies for complete utilization and treatment of these waste streams, university researchers in related disciplines must collaborate and partner with the related industries. The purpose of the project is to build a strong collaboration within the University of Minnesota and with industrial partners to collectively address issues critical to the development and implementation of new technologies. We will (1) document the inventory and characteristics of waste streams in Minnesota, (2) conduct preliminary techno-economic, life-cycle and policy analysis, (3) identify technology gap, (4) identify and state the strength and position of U of MN expertise, and (5) develop a plan to advance future R&D and implementation. Upon completion of the project, a detailed report will be made available to the related industries.

Clean Public Power: Opportunities and Barriers for Renewable Energy in Minnesota’s Municipal and Cooperative Utilities

Elizabeth Wilson, Professor, Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, Humphrey School of Public Affairs (PI)

U of M Collaborators: Arne Kildegaard, Professor and Division Chair, Social Sciences, U of M Morris (Co-PI); Alexandra Klass, Professor, Law School (Co-PI); Timothy Smith, Professor, Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering (Co-PI); Lissa Pawlisch, Director, Clean Energy Resource Teams, Extension (Co-PI); Fritz Ebinger, Rural Energy Development Program Manager, Clean Energy Resource Teams, Extension

External Collaborators: Lola Shonenrich, Vice President, Great Plains Institute (Co-PI); Yusef Orest, Manager, Agralite Electric Power Cooperative (Co-PI); Robert Jagusch, Director, Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association

The energy industry faces multiple new social demands including enhanced climate resilience and lower carbon emissions. One way the electricity sector has responded to these demands is rapid deployment of renewable energy resources. Rural electric cooperatives (RECs) and municipal utilities (MUs) play a critical role in Minnesota’s energy landscape, yet compared to investor-owned utilities innovation within these organizations is understudied within both public policy and energy research. Their ability to respond to rapidly changing energy demands may be constrained by their organizational structure and contractual obligations. Their access to capital, existing contractual obligations, customer base, and their operations differ significantly from investor-owned utilities. We propose project to engage with critical stakeholders to understand how RECs and MUs perceive renewable energy technologies and the rapidly changing energy landscape in Minnesota. Building on our previous interdisciplinary work as engaged energy scholars studying sociotechnical change, we propose an initial project to review the literature, engage REC and MU practitioners in a series of interactive interviews and listening meetings with the purpose of identifying critical issues facing this community. This information will be shared with practitioners at RECs and MUs, Minnesota state policy makers, and used to develop a larger grant proposal.