Minnesota’s Future in Wind Power
By Jacob Sprandel, GCC 3011 student
Integration of emerging technologies will increase wind energy’s reliability, and push it towards even more widespread development. Storage solutions at both the utility and residential scale are a major driver of wind adoption, as they allow wind energy’s viability as a central power provider. Battery innovation, such as Form Energy’s iron-air battery, allows battery storage to become a long-term power provider. While simultaneously being cheaper to manufacture than traditional lithium-ion batteries, Form’s battery can deliver power for up to 100 hours continuously. As their first storage project opens in Cambridge, MN in 2023, energy from renewable sources will soon become available effectively permanently. On another side of energy storage, the University of Minnesota Morris has developed a “wind to hydrogen to ammonia” plant, which does what the name suggests: uses excess power produced at wind turbines to produce hydrogen, which is in turn used to produce ammonia. This type of energy storage, referred to as “Power to X”, is a powerful tool to utilize excess renewable energy that the grid does not need into a valuable product. In this case ammonia is used for fertilizer and fuel for heavy machinery, making a system such as this perfect for use on or near farms. When storage solutions such as these are applied throughout the state in coming years, wind energy will become even more economically feasible than it currently is and will provide power and services to Minnesotan communities like never before.
A second key aspect to the future growth and maintenance of wind power in Minnesota, and a necessary area of growth in the state, is the support of wind energy jobs and training programs. Minnesota’s renewable energy sector employs 7,600 people, and current commitments to clean energy futures will require thousands more in coming years. Many of these jobs are found in the installation and maintenance of renewable energy projects, and these workers are found throughout the state. However, wind energy job training programs are less common than expected, with fewer than 10 wind turbine service technician training programs available statewide. Furthermore, wind energy jobs are often unavailable to underrepresented communities and people who live in urban areas, as transportation and payment for training programs are rare. The state must work harder to offer technical training in renewable energy fields to people throughout the state in order for the future demand for technicians to be met. Offering tuition breaks to students and expanding funding for new training programs must occur soon, and willingness to work to ensure this process occurs equitably is a requirement.
Minnesota’s wind energy future is exciting, and will only become better as time goes on. This development process must be cared for closely to ensure it benefits all across the state, but as long as the wind keeps blowing Minnesota’s wind future will be bright.