Solar Energy

When assessing the potential to become a solar energy powerhouse, you simply cannot ignore Minnesota's ample expertise, its deep commitment to growing the sector, skilled workforce and its abundant supply of raw material -- more hours of sunlight than Germany, the world's current top photovoltaic market.

The foundation of a world-class industry is in place in Minnesota and the state has experienced tremendous growth in solar energy projects, large and small from multinational giants like 3M to a growing number of small companies.

Overview

Aggressive Renewable Energy Commitment 
Minnesota's strong commitments to renewable energy, to supporting a greener economy, and to promoting business development and job creation in solar energy industriess is reflected in our nation-leading public policies that focus on renewable energy initiatives.

  • 25 percent of our electricity must come from renewable energy sources by 2025.
  • Xcel Energy, Minnesota's largest electricity producer, must meet a 30 percent renewable energy goal by 2020.
  • State-owned buildings and state agencies must adopt renewable energy strategies to achieve at least 20 percent reduction in energy use. More than 6,400 building covering 281 million square feet have been identified (2011).

More Sun Than The World’s Top Photovoltaic Market
Let's start by putting a common misconception to rest: Minnesota's winter climate isn't a factor in solar energy production.

Solar potential simply is not related to average temperature. Hot or cold doesn't matter. It's the sun that's important. And Minnesota's got a lot of it.

Minneapolis has an annual average of 6.9 hours of sunlight per day. By comparison, Germany − the top photovoltaic market − has an average of 4.8 hours of sunlight per day.

Top World Photovoltaic Markets and Annual Average Hours of Sunlight

Location

Annual Average Hours of Sunlight

Photovoltaic Market Rank 2010

Germany

4.8

1st

Czech Republic

5.2

5th

Japan

5.4

4th

Minneapolis

6.9

Not applicable

Italy

7

2nd

USA

7.1

3rd


Sources: ClimateTemp.Info; Solarbuzz.

Minnesota also shines when compared to other U.S. states. The state’s long hours of sunlight during the summer months gives Minnesota the same solar potential as Tallahassee, Florida and Houston, Texas.

It is not a surprise that the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) ranks Minneapolis the fourth highest in potential of annual rooftop solar power generation in the United States.

Data from a federal source also shows that the average annual percent of possible sunshine in Minneapolis-St. Paul is not significantly different from cities perceived as sunnier.

Average Possible Annual Sunshine (Through 2010)

City

Average Possible Annual Sunshine

Years Through 2010

Sacramento, CA

78%

46

Pensacola, FL

60%

5

Houston

59%

27

Minneapolis-St.Paul

58%

58

St. Louis

57%

37

Chicago

54%

16

Seattle

47%

30

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Initiatives

Solar America Cities
The Solar America Cities Initiative in the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul promote market expansion of solar technologies. Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, the initiative is one of 25 Solar America Cities special projects.

The purpose is to develop a strategic plan to make solar energy more accessible for homes and businesses by 2015. The cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul have the aggressive goal of increasing solar capacity by 500 percent.

Partners for the Solar America Cities Initiative include the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, state agencies, utilities and community organizations.

The solar thermal project hosted by the RiverCentre in Saint Paul is one example of a Solar America Cities project. Among the project's key features:

  • It is the only solar hot water project in the country integrated with a district heating system
  • It is the largest solar thermal system in the Midwest
  • At one megawatt peak production capacity, this project is high-energy, cutting-edge technology
  • The solar energy offsets about one quarter of the RiverCentre’s annual energy or about 900,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions

Other accomplishments of the Solar in the Cities Initiatives include:

  • The installation of two solar charging systems for plug-in hybrid cars as part of HourCar, a local non-profit car sharing program
  • Worked with an innovative local company called SolarFlow Energy to install the first solar leasing project in the Twin Cities.

Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment
Grants totaling $1 million funded 22 solar projects, using sales tax money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed in 2008.

The money was awarded by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to benefit wildlife habitat, clean water, and regional parks and trails. Recipients are located throughout the state and include a neighborhood interpretive center, municipal swimming pools, a nature trail and arboretum.

Sunshot Initiative
Minnesota's 3M was one of only five recipients nationwide to receive a grant for solar energy research through the Sunshot Initiative. The company received more than $4 million for the development and manufacturing of pilot scale processes.

Sunshot is a national initiative by the U.S. Department of Energy to make solar energy technologies cost-competitive with other forms of energy. The goal is to reduce the cost of solar energy systems by 75 percent by the year 2020.

The initiative aims to reduce the total installed cost for utility-scale solar electricity to roughly six cents per kilowatt hour without subsidies to support a rapid, large-scale adoption of solar electricity across the United States.

Growth

Minnesota's growing solar industry has more than 4 megawatts of installed solar photovoltaic capacity and more than 600 solar electric installations. Residential and commercial users each share about half of the capacity.

The state’s solar installations include large and small projects.

The largest is a 600-kilowatt solar photovoltaic array on the Minneapolis Convention Center that produces enough energy to power 85 homes.

Minnesota’s Largest Photovoltaic Systems

Solar Project

City

Capacity (Kilowatts)

Year

Minneapolis Convention Center

Minneapolis

600

2010

St. John University

St. Michael

400

2009

Merrick Corporation

Vadnais Heights

100

2008

Hennepin County

Medina

97

2009

Great River Energy

Elk River

70

2008

Quality Bicycle Parts

Bloomington

40

2007

Shamrock Investments

Fridley

39.96

2010

Transfiguration Church

Oakdale

39.9

2007

Machineland USA

St. Michael

39.9

2007

Mulroy's Body Shop

Minneapolis

39.2

2010

Source: Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Other solar energy projects also benefit apartment buildings, homes and businesses throughout the state. Minnesota has hundreds of success stories. Here are few examples:

  • A solar hot water system provides energy for most of the building’s hot water needs at the Wellstone Apartments in Minneapolis.
  • A weatherization and solar air heat system combination saves a family more than 50 percent in fuel consumption for the home on the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation
  • A solar photovoltaic system helps power two buildings occupying 25,000 square feet for a business in Redwood Falls.
  • The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) based in Pine River and the Ottertail-Wadena Community Action Council (OTWCAC) collaborated to provide RREAL’s Solar Powered Furnace (SPF) to low income families in the OTWCAC service area.

Companies Generating a Buzz
Minnesota companies large and small have well established reputations for their solar expertise or are gaining well-deserved recognition (and market share) in the industry for their innovation.

TenKsolar is a prime example. The Bloomington-based company is generating electricity for as little as 8 cents per kilowatt hour from its solar arrays atop commercial buildings. The cost is down from 45 center per kwh in 2008.

The company has drawn international attention for its redundant array of integrated solar wave technology, which produces up to 50 percent more energy per square foot than a standard solar array.

Launched in 2008 with an $8 million investment, TenKsolar is expecting annual revenue near $100 million by the end of 2012.

Illustrating just how Minnesota's solar companies can rely on each other for success, TenKsolar uses an efficient reflective coating in its arrays that is produced by 3M, a Minnesota-based multinational corporation known the world over for its scientific innovations.

Incentives

Solar electric photovoltaic systems are except from property and sales taxes in Minnesota, but there are other incentives to encourage the development and offset the costs of solar energy projects.

Rebates, grants and tax credits are available from a variety of federal and state government agencies state as well as programs offered by municipal and investor-owned utilities.

Municipal Utility Incentives
A number of municipal utilities offer solar energy incentives and programs for homeowners and businesses.

Investor-Owned Utility Incentives
Minnesota-based Xcel Energy offers the following solar rebates and incentives to commercial and residential customers:

Minnesota Power, which serves electric customers in Northeastern Minnesota, offers the following solar rebates and incentives to residential and commercial customers:

Workforce

From highly educated engineers to highly trained and skilled manufacturing workers, we’ve got the workforce you’ll need to succeed.

Minnesota ranks ninth among all states for workforce health and safety, according to the 2010 Business Facilities Ranking Report. Minnesota also boasts the nation’s 14th-largest manufacturing sector with more than 300,100 workers.

Minnesota's higher education system is among the best in the country. There are 180 public and private postsecondary institutions in the state. Learn more about higher education in Minnesota.

The higher education system has been extremely important to many of the state's key industries.

Why? The institutions are well known for their interest in and responsiveness to the workforce development needs of industry.

Many colleges and universities work closely industry to develop training programs, curriculum and full-blown degrees designed to meet the short- and long-term worker training needs of key sectors, including solar energy.

Environment and Energy-Related Expertise
Minnesota's colleges and universities granted more than 8,200 degrees and other awards in environment and energy related fields in 2007 and 2008, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Field Number of Graduates
Natural Resources and Conservation 460
Environmental Design/Architecture Fields 319
Engineering 1,646
Engineering Technical Degrees 1,220
Physical Sciences 840
Construction Trades 1,481
Mechanical and Repair Technical Degrees 1,403
Precision Production 535
Transportation and Materials Moving 308
TOTAL 8,212

Degrees Tailored to Industry
To respond to the growing need for renewable energy, schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system are now offering degrees tailored to serve specific industries.

Program Award
Advanced Photovoltaic Energy Systems Certificate
Advanced Solar Thermal Energy Systems Certificate
Clean Energy Systems Technician Certificate
Energy Technical Specialist Associate Degree in Applied Science
Renewable Energy Systems Technologist Certificate
Renewable Energy Technology Associate Degree in Applied Science
Solar Assessor Certificate
Solar Installer Certificate
Solar Photovoltaic Contractor Technician Diploma
Solar Photovoltaic Contractor Technology Associate Degree in Applied Science
Solar Thermal Contractor Technician Diploma
Solar Thermal Contractor Technology Associate Degree in Applied Science
Sustainable Environment Technologies Associate Degree in Applied Science

Vendors

Contractors
The most common types of solar technology in Minnesota are passive solar design, solar air heating, solar electric (photovoltaics), and solar thermal (domestic hot water).

The Minnesota Department of Commerce has identified more than 100 renewable energy contractors that offer services in solar thermal, solar air heating and PV installation.

Supply Chain
From sheet metal and housings to switches, computer controls, and all kinds of electronic modules, many Minnesota companies manufacture components for the solar industry. View, download and print a solar supply chain spreadsheet.

Contacts

Through different government agencies, the state of Minnesota provides technical assistance in different areas to support solar energy companies in the state.

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
DEED handles many of the business-development aspects related to the solar industry, including solar market opportunities, business financing and training, export assistance, and working with companies that wish to startup, expand or relocate in Minnesota.

  • Contact Kari Howe at 218-755-4478 for solar energy business development inquiries.
  • Contact Steve Riedel at 651-259-7494 for export-related assistance or to learn about solar energy opportunities in foreign markets.

Minnesota Department of Commerce
The department's Division of Energy Resources has information on incentives and rebates for energy products and investments.

It also provides a wide variety of data and reports, and information on the cost, benefits, challenges and financial incentives for solar electric systems.

  • Contact Stacy Miller at 651-282-5091 for information about incentives, renewable energy statistics and more.