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Grants fund new partnership to explore renewable energy storage in Minnesota

UMN Morris News Service
Publication date: 
September 30, 2021

solar panels and wind turbines

As utilities diversify their generation resources by adding renewable energy systems, a common question in rural Minnesota is, “Can wind and solar really meet our energy needs if it isn’t always sunny or windy—is there something we can do?” Energy storage technologies have the potential to store clean energy so it can be used later.

For the past five years the University of Minnesota Morris has explored energy storage solutions in Minnesota with the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment and statewide partners. Now the campus is embarking on a new partnership with Otter Tail Power Company (OTP) and microgrid control systems leader Open Access Technology International (OATI) to explore a large-scale energy storage project in Morris. UMN Morris and Otter Tail Power Company are long-time partners in the Morris Model community partnership. UMN Morris students, who are engaged in campus energy work, are pushing the university to extend campus climate leadership into energy storage.

The University of Minnesota Morris has received two grants to fund this work from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust. The two grants, totaling over $2.65 million, will support the installation, demonstration, and research activities connected to a new energy storage project. The grants will be used to explore novel battery solutions—like flow batteries. Flow batteries can be used as an alternative to Li-ion batteries. Li-ion batteries are commonly used in electric cars and mobile phones. But flow batteries have unique properties that make them ideal for usage in a stationary, electrical-grid application. There are several ways that stored energy can be used to help the grid operate better. Flow batteries are flexible because they can be cycled many times without degrading and can work at lower temperatures than other energy storage solutions. Flow batteries can be filled with clean energy and the electricity can be released back to the campus grid during times of high energy demand.

“Currently UMN Morris overproduces clean energy. Our goal is to use more of the clean energy we produce. We want to find ways to store green electrons and use them later to support our clean energy progress and carbon neutrality goals. We believe batteries can be used in creative ways to do that. We are trying to grow our own campus microgrid. We have a great team to explore this technical challenge,” explains Bryan Herrmann, vice chancellor for finance and facilities.

This partnership among the university, utility, and private-sector company will provide important hands-on experience that will help other Minnesota schools, communities, utilities, and regulators learn more about the opportunities and limitations of this emergent technology.

Funding for this project provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The Trust Fund is a permanent fund constitutionally established by the citizens of Minnesota to assist in the protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources.