Grants are being used to support a new partnership in Minnesota that is looking at renewable energy storage

“Can solar and wind power really meet our energy requirements if it isn’t always windy or sunny—is there anything we can do?” is a frequent question in rural Minnesota as utilities broaden their generation resources by incorporating renewable energy systems. Energy storage devices offer the capability of storing sustainable energy for later use.

For the past five years, University of Minnesota Morris has worked with the University of Minnesota Institute on Environment as well as statewide partners to investigate energy storage technologies in Minnesota. The Morris Model community cooperation has long included Otter Tail Power Company and UMN Morris. Now, the campus is forming a new collaboration with the Otter Tail Power Company (OTP) and Open Access Technology International (OATI), a leader in microgrid control systems, to investigate a large-scale energy storage venture in Morris. Students at UMN Morris who are involved in campus energy projects are urging the university to expand its climate leadership to include energy storage.

The Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust have awarded the University of Minnesota Morris two grants to support this research. The two funds, worth a total of $2.65 million, will go toward the installation, testing, and research of a novel energy storage project. The funds will be utilized to investigate new battery technologies, such as flow batteries. Lithium-ion batteries can be replaced with flow batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are widely utilized in electric vehicles and smartphones.

There are various ways to use stored energy to make the grid run more smoothly. Flow batteries are versatile since they can be cycled repeatedly without degrading and operating at lower temperatures than other energy storage systems. On the other hand, Flow batteries have special features that make them excellent for fixed electrical-grid applications. During heavy energy demand, flow batteries can be charged with renewable power and the electricity released back to the campus grid.

“At the moment, UMN Morris produces too much clean energy. Our ambition is to utilize more of the renewable energy that we generate. We want to figure out how to store green electrons so that we may use them later to help us achieve our clean energy and carbon neutrality objectives. Batteries, we believe, can be employed in inventive ways to accomplish this. We’re attempting to establish our microgrid on campus. Bryan Herrmann, who serves as the vice-chancellor in charge of the finance and facilities, notes, “We have a strong team to examine this technical problem.”

This collaboration between the university, the utility, and a private-sector firm will provide valuable hands-on experience that helps other Minnesota institutions, towns, utilities, and regulators better understand the benefits and drawbacks of this emerging technology.

The Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund contributed funding for this project, as proposed by Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The Minnesota Air, Water, Land, Fish, Wildlife, and Other Natural Resources Trust Fund is a permanent fund established by Minnesota people to aid in the preservation, protection, conservation, and enhancement of the state’s wildlife, air, water, land, fish, and other natural resources.

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