Energy Transition

A rendering of a large lithium-ion battery next to solar panels and windmills

Energy Transition at IonE

Through our Energy Transition initiative, IonE aims to help shape Minnesota’s energy system into a global model for a carbon-neutral economy that is at once prosperous and equitable, advances innovation, and improves both the environment and people’s lives. 

We believe that it is critical to prioritize and catalyze efforts that will advance the equitable use and control of rural land, urban markets, and interconnected infrastructure in the transition to a clean energy economy. 

To do our work, we collaborate with a broad cross-disciplinary team that includes energy and policy experts as well as community leaders and organizers. Together we are leaders towards a just, equitable energy transition – one that not only moves us to a clean energy economy but also enhances community resilience and prosperity. More on our vision and strategies to create Minnesota’s clean energy future can be found in our 2018 IonE Energy Transition Strategic Plan. The plan outlines our theory of change to bring together UMN experts and reach beyond the university, building on a strong state tradition of energy innovation with an emphasis on collaboration and replicability.



Community-Scale Energy Storage

The technology to harness renewable energy, such as wind or solar, has become increasingly affordable and more widespread – including at the community scale, powering homes, churches, schools, businesses, and other buildings. This marks our passage to the next stage of the transition to a clean energy economy: the ability to store renewable energy for future use, including at the community scale.

In order to demonstrate the process and possibilities of community-scale renewable energy storage, the Energy Transition team is partnering with three Minnesota communities operating on self-controlled micro-grids to design, install, and test different battery applications: the Government Center for the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe Indians, the Green Prairie Community residence hall at the University of Minnesota Morris, and Renewable Energy Partners’ (REP) Regional Apprenticeship Training Center (RATC) in North Minneapolis. The installations illustrate how energy storage batteries help aid in the resilience of communities and, by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, the health of the planet.

Funding for this project (ML2018 07b) was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) and by the McKnight Foundation.

Virtual Site Tour

Curious about adding storage for the renewable energies powering your home or building? View our virtual tour of the battery installations:

Learn More

WATCH: Community-Scale Energy Storage: How Does it Work?

READ: Community-Scale Energy Storage Guide:
How Community Groups and Small Businesses Can Employ Energy Storage to Save Money and Contribute to Minnesota’s Clean Energy Transition

This guide is for people who have or are interested in investing in renewable energy to power their home, business, or community space. In it, we walk you through how the US electricity grid operates, how renewable energy generated by homes and buildings works alongside it, and how investing in battery storage for renewable energy can optimize resources and help protect communities against power outages. We also overview the different technologies available for storing renewable energy for future use and the partners, costs, and steps involved with installing an energy storage battery. Recent case studies from three sites in Minnesota, a state without fossil fuel reserves yet rich in renewable resources, illustrate how energy storage batteries help aid in the resilience of communities and, by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, the health of the planet.


Project Team

Renewable Energy Partners (REP)

Jamez Staples
President and CEO, REP

Michael Krause
President and Director of Strategy and New Projects, Kandiyohi Development Partners, LLC

Red Lake Tribe

Robert Blake
Founder and Owner, Solar Bear

Ralph Jacobson
Chief JEDI Officer, Impact Power Solutions, LLC

University of Minnesota, Morris

Troy Goodnough
Sustainability Director, UMN Morris, and IonE Fellow

Bryan Herrmann
Vice-Chancellor for Finance and Facilities


Other Energy Transition Projects

Minnesota’s Clean Energy Future Series

This ongoing series of events dives deep into key issues facing our state, such as electrification, energy storage, equity in energy transition, multi-sector carbon reduction, and renewable and clean energy standards. It aims to create meaningful bipartisan and cross-sector forums, where statewide leaders can access cutting-edge information and ideas, build their networks, and explore pathways to a clean energy future.

Low-Cost Renewable Energy

To support the development of pyrite iron disulfide (FeS2), an Earth-abundant chemical, as a sustainable light-absorbing material for low-cost solar cells, researchers investigated two newly-possible approaches to creating pyrite-based solar cells: 1) making solar cells only from FeS2; and 2) combining FeS2 with silicon to reduce the cost of commercial silicon solar cells.

Controlling Wind Power Plant

Using supercomputer-based simulations, laboratory and field measurements, and modeling, this project aimed to lower the variability in wind energy output and thereby improve the efficiency and reliability of wind plants. It is the first of its kind to involve numerous turbines in a realistic setting.

Interface for Renewables and Storage

In order to connect renewable electricity sources and battery storage with the utility grid, the project team developed a new electronics-based interface that can operate at low voltages (for community-scale plants) and also be scaled up to accommodate higher voltage and power levels. The novel interface also provides ancillary service. 

Direct Conversion of Heat to Electricity

Using thin crystalline films that convert common natural and waste heat sources (such as air conditioners) to electricity, the project team developed devices to convert waste heat to electricity.

Future Cities Initiative

As a complement to IonE urban research projects, the Science Museum of Minnesota engaged a wide variety of audiences in creating smarter, better cities. 

Resilient Communities Project

Through the Resilient Communities Project (RCP), Minnesota communities partner with UMN faculty and students to address local issues in ways that advance sustainability and resilience. Through these one-year partnerships, RCP advances an innovative model of community‐engaged sustainability education; trains future sustainability practitioners; builds city staff capacity to advance sustainability and resilience; and produces best practices, tools, and cases that can inform sustainability practice throughout Minnesota.

Climate-Smart Municipalities

Modeling Integrated Energy Communities for the 21st Century in Minnesota and Germany pairs Minnesota municipalities with award-winning climate-smart communities in Germany to accelerate progress toward a cleaner and more efficient energy footprint. Selected municipalities send representatives to Germany to learn about innovative programs and practices, then share their insights in Minnesota.

Promoting German & European Studies in North America

Formed in collaboration with the Center for German & European Studies, this renewable energy policy workshop brings together social scientists, humanities scholars, technologists, and policy-makers to extend the dialogue on Germany’s energy policy and its possible lessons for the United States.

Energy Transition Lab

The Energy Transition Lab (ETL), housed in the Institute on the Environment, engaged university and external experts to catalyze solutions to rapidly reduce carbon emissions and create Minnesota’s clean energy future. Today, this work continues under IonE’s Energy Transition initiative. 

Sustainable Cities

“Sustainable Cities: Building an Integrative Research Network to Incorporate Natural Capital Into Design of Urban Systems” aims to advance understanding of green infrastructure. The project does this by: 1) stimulating new collaborative research on urban ecosystem services; 2) identifying key knowledge gaps and barriers to sustainability and developing proposals to address those gaps; and 3) supporting integration of research and practice through partnerships, educational opportunities, and stakeholder engagement.

Deep Winter Greenhouses

Deep winter greenhouses (DWGs), also know as passive solar greenhouses, enable producers in cold climates to grow crops year-round with minimal fossil fuel inputs. “Deep Winter Greenhouses: Promoting Year-Round Food Production in Northern Climates” is building 10 deep winter greenhouses (DWGs) throughout greater Minnesota to demonstrate DWG technology as a part of a year-round production system.