April 16, 2021
“We are not just transitioning our energy system, we are transforming it.”
The 2021 Minnesota Energy Factsheet Rollout Webinar event on Thursday, April 15, 2021 was to amplify the new report, provide an overview of the data points and hear how the report impacts Minnesotans from a panel of clean energy business and industry experts. Sponsored by the McKnight Foundation, the webinar was put on in partnership with the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and BloombergNEF and attended by nearly 150 participants.
Reviewing the National Factbook and the Minnesota Factsheet Data
To open, Lisa Jacobson, the President of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, welcomed the group and thanked everyone for their participation and effort in compiling this vital report.
Melina Bartels of BloombergNEF, who compiled the report took over, starting with some high-level national trends from this year’s Factbook and then diving into the Minnesota Factsheet. She explains how the last year was extremely unique because of stay-at-home orders and economic hardships, but the declines in consumption still outpaced the decline in GDP. Time and time again, she explains that the transportation sector was the leader in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and it will be a crucial focal point in the energy transition.
In Minnesota specifically, total electricity consumption in the state fell 9% over the last decade. Last year, the state imported the lowest level of energy in the last two decades! In 2020, Minnesota built exclusively renewable energy power plants. In addition to a large new wind project, we built 100 smaller scale solar projects. Finally, Minnesota's drop in carbon emissions last year beats the national average - an impressive feat for the state!
Panel discussion with industry and business leaders
We were fortunate to be joined by four experts in Minnesota clean energy:
Aditya Ranade, PhD, Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Energy Resources at the Minnesota Department of Commerce
Becky Wacker, Area General Manager, Trane Commercial HVAC North America
Brad Heitland, Business Development Executive, Solar & Emerging Renewables, Mortenson
Ken Smith, President & CEO of Ever-Green Energy
Which fact is most exciting to you and why?
Becky Wacker: The rapid nature of our adoption of non-carbon emission power generation. This is phenomenal progress and ties in nicely with the sources becoming more and more efficient!
Ken Smith: The trend that caught my eye the most is the energy productivity achieving a 24% increase and appears to be accelerating! It’s long been a metric that I have monitored and championed.
Aditya Ranade: A fact that we can be proud of is that we are ranked 9th in the American Council for Efficient Economies ranking of the most efficient states thanks to our successes in the Conservation Improvement Program, and we will get even better if we can pass the Energy Conservation and Optimization Act to improve on that program.
Brad Heitland: Seeing 1.3GW of renewable energy capacity contracted through power purchase agreements is a testament to the importance of sourcing clean energy to our leading companies in Minnesota.
How do we leverage these trends into opportunities for your business?
Brad Heitland: Melina mentioned the record number of solar installations this past year, looking at projections going forward we are predicting about 300GW of solar demand in the next decade. This is creating a wonderful opportunity for growth, high paying jobs and opportunities along the value chain.
Ken Smith: The first step that we are seeing is companies and organizations that are setting decarbonization goals. The next step is that we create pathways to achieve these goals. The last step is enacting strategies to achieve the decarbonization.
Becky Wacker: We are seeing 15% of global emissions coming from heating and cooling businesses. We have seen a huge loss of talent in building management and we are seeing folks get excited in this field again.
Aditya Ranade: There are three areas we need to focus on - long duration energy storage, over 10 hours of capacity, the second area is flexible loads and focusing on how to make appliances demand response devices, and third is decarbonization of the thermal sector.
What are the roadblocks in moving policy goals along?
Aditya Ranade: There is a set of roadblocks that are political. We need better education that reliable, affordable and clean energy are not a trade off of each other. We need all three. We need to engage folks in good-faith arguments. We need to counter the view that cleaning up the grid makes it more expensive and less reliable.
Ken Smith: I think education is extremely important. Change is hard and we are not transitioning an energy system -- we are transforming an energy system. It is that big of a challenge of what we are doing, it takes a lot of education and connecting the dots. We tend to work in silos and increasingly we have to help people connect the dots. Increasingly, we also need to focus on life-cycle costs to help people understand the overall benefits of this transition.
Becky Wacker: As we are starting to do new things, there is always the hurdle of, “Minnesota’s different.” Our weather is different, our challenges are different and we need folks to step out and take that risk. The other side is economics and getting people to understand the benefits of spending more up front and making things more efficient or switching to electric.
How do we ensure that our clean energy transition is equitable for BIPOC Minnesotans?
Aditya Ranade: The MN Department of Commerce is starting a series of dialogues with community organizations. We are in listening mode to capture the energy needs of the different communities around the state. The concerns that we have heard are that the energy burden is greater on low-income communities and BIPOC communities, taking into account concerns of host communities, and finally access to training and apprenticeship for BIPOC communities.
Brad Heitland: One of the upsides of the pandemic has been the increase of our college recruiting. We are accessing BIPOC communities now that we haven’t been able to reach before. Establishing pre-apprenticeship programs is another huge area to meet the demand of skilled labor we will need.
Ken Smith: We have begun to diversify our thought, by diversifying our board and leadership. We have also been diversifying our opportunities, reviewing our job descriptions for biases we were unaware of before so we can get more people into the workforce.
Becky Wacker: We have also been reviewing our job descriptions to bring in more diverse candidates and we have expanded our college recruiting process to create an early career track with diversity goals. We are also reaching into the tech schools to build young talent and provide resources and scholarships.
What do you hope to accomplish this year?
Aditya Ranade: I would like to see other sectors, thermal and transportation, start to accelerate their decarbonization processes.
Ken Smith: We need to see more on the net-zero side and we should be seeing dozens of project examples of where this is occurring.
Becky Wacker: I hope to have the ability to look at each building and see how each site is making an impact on decarbonization.
Brad Heitland: I’d like to see the cost of solar move below the cost of natural gas.
Gregg Mast, Executive Director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota wrapped up the hour by thanking the group and encouraging all participants to engage with this material on social media. You can learn more on our 2021 Minnesota Energy Factsheet page, through our press release, and on our Twitter and LinkedIn.