Study finds solar and wind can competitively serve 70% of Minnesota’s electrical load by 2050

A new study commissioned by and submitted to the Minnesota Commerce Department finds that Minnesota could achieve 10 percent solar energy by 2025 at costs comparable to natural gas generation. The study’s findings also suggest that expected cost reductions for solar, wind and storage could enable Minnesota to achieve 70 percent solar and wind by 2050.

The Solar Potential Analysis Report, released this week, was prepared by Clean Power Research on behalf of the MN Solar Pathways initiative, a three-year project funded by a competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office. The project focuses on strategies for meeting Minnesota’s solar energy goal of 10 percent by 2030.

The Commerce Department administers the state’s energy policies and programs and is participating in the project in collaboration with other energy stakeholders, including utilities, businesses, local governments and nonprofit organizations.

Minnesota has already reached its current Renewable Electricity Standard of 25 percent by 2025. The state is also close to meeting the current Solar Electricity Standard of 1.5 percent by the end of 2020.

The next model being developed under the MN Solar Pathways initiative will be a tool to evaluate rate structures and their impacts along with the broader value propositions of different solar deployment scenarios.

Commerce Commissioner Jessica Looman said:

“This new study provides valuable information and analysis as Minnesota continues its progress to a renewable energy future. Along with additional research and analysis this study will help inform ongoing discussions and decision-making about the vital role of renewable energy in powering our state.”

This new study analyzed the extent to which solar, wind and storage resources could cost-effectively meet the state’s future electricity needs on an hourly and daily basis. The analysis is based on modeling various scenarios to identify the likely range of future renewable energy generation costs and power capacity.

Key findings from the report:

  • Solar and wind can serve 70 percent of Minnesota’s electrical load in 2050. Solar and wind can serve 70 percent of Minnesota’s load at generation costs that are comparable to the levelized generation cost of new natural gas generation.

  • Additional capacity coupled with energy curtailment is considerably less expensive than, and a viable alternative to, long-term or seasonal storage in a high renewables future. Declining costs of solar and wind generation (<$20/MWh) will enable solar and wind to be economically curtailed during periods of high production and low load.


  • Using other flexible generation resources in limited amounts support a high renewables future. The strategic use of other generation resources during brief periods of low-solar and low-wind production will significantly reduce the storage, solar, and wind capacities needed to serve Minnesota’s hourly load, reducing the generation cost for 70 percent solar and wind by nearly half.

  • Storage is an important part of a high renewables future; it expands the dispatch capabilities of wind and solar assets. Sufficient quantities of storage smooth out the intra-hour variability of solar and wind.

  • Shifting of key flexible loads may further decrease generation costs. Load shifting of new electric vehicle and residential domestic hot water loads demonstrated a potential 10-20 percent decrease in generation costs by moving the consumption to different times in an hour, day, or week.

Jeff Ressler, CEO of Clean Power Research said:

“The MN Solar Pathways Solar Potential Analysis Report demonstrates that it’s possible to find an economical pathway to higher renewable generation. Critical to this project was the use of time-correlated solar, wind and load generation datasets in advanced software tools to more precisely see the effects of different scenarios, such as varying amounts of solar, wind and storage capacities.”

Mark Ahlstrom with Energy Systems Integration Group and a Technical Committee member who contributed to the development of the report said:

“The MN Solar Pathways Solar Potential Analysis approach is conservative but relevant, and there is a growing body of good work that shows that penetrations in the 70-80 percent renewable range are quite feasible and not unduly expensive. Best of all, we have the key technologies today to get to 70 percent renewable energy and to accommodate massive electrification of other energy sectors.”

Brian Ross with the Great Plains Institute said:

“This report shows that a renewable energy future is not only possible in Minnesota, but that the generation cost of solar, wind, and storage is competitive with natural gas generation.”

Josh Quinnell with Center for Energy and Environment added:

“We also learned that coupling additional solar and wind capacity with energy curtailment when production is not needed eliminates the need for costly seasonal energy storage.”

Source: Press Release by Minnesota Department of Commerce.