The hidden story on Minnesota’s new energy efficiency potential study: Efficiency is the ‘workhorse’ for climate goals

(ACEEE blog, 20 Dec 2018) Minnesota has been receiving well-deserved attention for its ambitious renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals, which aim for 25% of electricity from renewables by 2025 and an 80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050.

Indeed, its largest utility, Xcel Energy announced plans earlier this month to reduce carbon emissions by 80% from 2005 levels by 2030, and completely eliminate carbon emissions from its power plants by 2050.

While renewable energy is the ‘showhorse’ most talked about regarding Minnesota’s efforts, energy efficiency will be a key ‘workhorse’ in achieving those clean energy goals. 

After all, any such goals (e.g., renewables % or GHG reduction) become easier if energy efficiency reduces the amount of energy required. Minnesota has long been among the national leaders in utility energy efficiency, which has helped enable its noteworthy renewable energy accomplishments to date. 

Now a new energy efficiency potential study shows that much more opportunity remains for energy efficiency in Minnesota, which should help pave the way for further progress toward renewable energy and climate goals. The study was coordinated by the Minnesota Center for Energy and Environment (MNCEE), with project partners Optimal Energy and Seventhwave, and assistance from ACEEE and ESource. 

The key takeaway: Electric utilities should be able to continue to meet or exceed Minnesota’s statutory target of 1.5% energy savings per year through 2029, which was the study’s timeframe. In fact, the study estimates that Minnesota’s investor-owned utilities should be able to achieve at least 1.9% savings per year, and municipal utilities and co-ops should be able to do at least 1.7%. (The “maximum achievable” estimate was 2.7% and 2.4% respectively.)

The graph below helps put those savings in context. Excerpted from the final report, it shows the historical energy efficiency spending and savings achievements of Minnesota electric utilities (in gigawatt-hours and as a percentage of total sales), for each year since 2008.

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ACEEE blog, 20 Dec 2018: The hidden story on Minnesota’s new energy efficiency potential study: Efficiency is the ‘workhorse’ for climate goals