Our energy system is in the midst of a major transition. Our power sources are shifting from coal to more natural gas and renewables. We need to upgrade our aging grid to accommodate those new sources. As our grid becomes “smarter,” we need it to be responsive and reliable. And new greenhouse gas emissions regulations and the need to make our grid resilient as the climate changes add further complexities.
This energy transition has the potential to spark innovation in business and the public sector, leading to new jobs and better outcomes for the community and our environment. Reaching that potential requires strong leadership. To provide that leadership, the University of Minnesota is launching the Energy Transition Lab with former state senator Ellen Anderson (J.D. ’86), senior advisor on energy and environment to Governor Dayton, as its inaugural executive director.
A strategic initiative of the University’s Institute on the Environment in partnership with the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Law School, the Energy Transition Lab will bring together leaders in government, business and nonprofit organizations to develop new energy policy pathways, institutions and regulations. As executive director, Anderson will work with the lab’s faculty director, Law School professor Hari Osofsky, to build collaborations, establish and monitor projects, and develop the lab into a focal point for innovative solutions.
“Ellen Anderson has been a leader in Minnesota’s energy transition for over two decades, and I cannot imagine someone more qualified to serve as the Energy Transition Lab’s inaugural executive director and help this lab make a major impact,” Osofsky said. “Her experience as a legislator crafting our key renewable energy legislation, as the chair of the Public Utilities Commission regulating energy in the state and as a senior advisor to Governor Dayton on these issues will be invaluable to this new initiative.”
“We need the University of Minnesota’s great researchers and thought leaders to help our energy system transition to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Anderson said. “I am thrilled to lead this critical endeavor, and look forward to working with the public, private and community sectors to catalyze innovative solutions.”
The Energy Transition Lab will focus on four core strategies: boosting energy efficiency; increasing use of clean, renewable energy sources; improving systems that move energy to where it’s needed; and advancing energy and environmental justice. The lab will address these by taking on projects in partnership with community leaders, moving from problem to tangible solution through consultations, research, public meetings, and outreach initiatives. An annual conference will bring together business, public policy and thought leaders to report on progress and identify next steps—which could include other high-impact activities. Specific products will include policy reports, legislative testimony, model legislation and regulations, as well as valuable learning opportunities for students, who will participate in shaping solutions through class activities and capstone projects. Public events will build awareness of the energy transition and of the lab’s activities.
According to Osofsky, the Energy Transition Lab aims to become the “go-to” place for experts and leaders beyond the University to work with University faculty, students and staff toward solutions to energy challenges.
“We have already begun the process of collaborating with key leaders in business, government and non-governmental organizations to develop projects that will help advance the energy transition in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, nationally and internationally,” Osofsky said. “We are excited to continue work with these and other leaders to make the Energy Transition Lab’s efforts as helpful as possible. We are aiming to find the leverage points in which our work can fill a gap and make a difference in important law and policy areas.”