Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
A well-established energy system supports all sectors: from businesses, medicine and education to agriculture, infrastructure, communications and high-technology. Access to electricity in poorer countries has accelerated, energy efficiency continues to improve, and renewable energy is making impressive gains. Nearly 9 out of 10 people now have access to electricity, but reaching the unserved 789 million around the world that lack access will require increased efforts.
Sustainable Development Goal #7 explores the societal value of clean and affordable energy. At the University of Minnesota, we are committed to investing in renewable energy resources, prioritizing energy efficient practices, and adopting clean energy technologies and infrastructure. Additionally, we are investing in research and partnerships that will bring new technologies to the market quickly.
RESEARCH AND EXPERTISE
OUTREACH AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
Public Events for the Local Community to Learn About the Importance of Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy
The Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) host several public events and other outreach opportunities to engage communities and individuals across Minnesota in conversations regarding energy use, renewable energy programs, and ways they can get involved in creating a clean energy future for MN.
The Center for Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP) fosters interdisciplinary and community-engaged research on human well-being, environmental sustainability, and social justice in a complex and diverse world. The Centers public engagement activities focus on developing relationships with external partners, developing environmental leadership, and facilitating solution-oriented projects at the nexus of science, technology, and environmental policy. Included in their outreach work are many public seminars featuring University and industry experts.
The Midwest Farm Energy Conference takes place every other year at the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris. The conference brings University energy experts together with regional businesses and local governments to showcase renewable energy systems for dairy and cropping systems and ways to reduce carbon intensity of production agriculture. In 2022, the use of green hydrogen and ammonia, agrivoltaics for grazing cattle, and robotic weed control were all highlighted.
Every year, the Center for Transportation Studies (CTS) offers a series of research seminars that are open to anyone interested in learning more about transportation research at the University of Minnesota. Past topics have included discussions related to public and alternative forms of transportation and electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to make them a reality in our communities.
The Technological Leadership Institute (TLI) has launched the new Center for Electrification opportunity (MN CEO) which will debut at the inaugural Electroposium Event on Monday, October 9th, 2023. The event aims to inspire and empower the next generation of electrification leaders by showcasing the latest technological advancements, offering hands-on training and informational sessions, and fostering discussions about the future of electrification.
Promoting Clean Energy and Increased Energy Efficiency Across MN
In Advancing the Minnesota Model Energy Transition Strategic Plan: 2018–2022, IonE lays out the activities that it will advance on behalf of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota, and the University’s partners and stakeholders in the energy transition including its commitment to championing carbon neutrality for Minnesota as one of three strategic sustainability goals IonE will pursue over three years.
Annually, the CERTs Program awards Clean Energy Seed Grants to encourage community-based clean energy projects in each Minnesota CERT region, spur projects that are highly visible in communities and can be replicated in others, and provide an opportunity for community education about clean energy and its many benefits. In 2022, 74 projects received Seed Grants with extra funding provided to underserved communities.
UMN Morris and UMN WCROC are partnering to launch the Center for Renewable Energy Storage Technology (CREST). In order to reach high levels of renewable power generation, efficient and economic energy storage systems are critically needed. This field is poised for significant growth and attention in the coming years. The new UMN intercollegiate Center will provide leadership in research, demonstration, education, and outreach in this vital field by organizing teams and partnerships and incubating energy storage research and demonstration-scale projects.
The Center for Sustainable Building Research (CSBR) in the College of Design focuses on transforming the built environment in ways that provide for the ecological, economic, and social needs of the present without compromising those of the future. Among their current projects, is the B3 / SB 2030 Energy Efficient Operations Manual (B3 EEOM). B3 EEOM is a web application developed for use by facility managers and is founded on the notion that a building is operating efficiently only if each significant energy consuming device or system uses only as much energy as needed to perform its intended function.
The Morris Model team was notified in 2023 that they were among 67 winners in the first phase of the $6.7 million Energizing Rural Communities Prize. The competition was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and is focused on supporting innovative partnership and finance plans to help rural or remote communities develop clean energy demonstration projects.
Services Aimed at Improving Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy for Local Industry
The CERTs work across the state of Minnesota to provide businesses and organizations with the best unbiased resources, tools, guidance, connections, funding and financing opportunities, events, and stories to get your projects done—for free.
Many businesses are realizing the dual benefits of going green: lower operating costs and improved environmental impact. The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) helps Minnesota businesses develop and implement industry-tailored solutions that prevent pollution at the source, maximize efficient use of resources, and reduce energy use and costs to improve public health and the environment.
The CERTs efforts include a funded by the USDA that focuses on helping farmers and business owners in greater Minnesota that are interested in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The program helps them to understand their options and move their project forward via project examples, funding and financial guidance, and direct technical assistance.
The Center for Electrification Opportunity (CEO) will lead the nation in developing professionals for the electric world. CEO will bring together industry, academia, and government to increase economic competitiveness in the face of international competition.
In Summer 2023, UMN was among the first organizations to signup for the Minnesota Cleantech Consortium-a groundbreaking initiative to accelerate the state's clean technology sector. The Consortium will focus on key areas of clean technology, including renewable energy, energy storage, sustainable transportation, water, circular economy solutions and more. It will serve as a catalyst for innovation and economic development at a critical time in the global race to address climate change.
Assistance for Job Seekers and Start-ups Related to Low-Carbon Economy or Technology
Clean energy employs over 61,000 people in Minnesota. The CERTs’ website includes a Clean Energy Job Board that seeks to connect job seekers with open positions across Minnesota along with clean energy workforce statistics, focus areas and job training.
MN Cup is a community-led, public-private partnership and competition hosted by the Carlson School of Management that brings together corporations, venture capitalists, foundations, government and skilled volunteers to support Minnesota’s entrepreneurs. For 2022, the competition focused on promoting and supporting entrepreneurship in the energy and clean technologies space.
Developing New Forms of Clean Energy and Carbon Sequestration Technologies
The West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) project team has a novel approach to address energy consumed in nitrogen fertilizer production. They have a unique pilot plant which uses wind energy to produce nitrogen fertilizer (anhydrous ammonia) and are evaluating the proper sizing and configuration needed to move the technology toward commercialization (read the latest 2023 update). A green nitrogen fertilizer source is a key element to improve the carbon footprint within production agriculture.
The Center for Biorefining is focused on coordinating UMN research, education and collaboration related to bioenergy, biochemicals and biomaterials. A key component of their work is biobased production technology development, promoting technology transfer to industries, and fostering economic development in rural areas.
MnDRIVE—Minnesota’s Discovery, Research, and InnoVation Economy—is a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the State of Minnesota that aligns areas of research strength within the University to the state’s key and emerging industries to address grand challenges. They identified five strategic areas, including “environment.” Environment MnDRIVE continues to be an active participant in supporting groundbreaking research related to clean energy and carbon sequestration as well as partnering with industry and local governments on key research projects.
EDUCATION AND STUDENTS
UMN POLICIES AND ADMINISTRATION
Energy Use (Numbers)
The Office of Sustainability tracks energy use across the system campuses in order to identify how much energy is used, from which sources, and to continue to improve the University’s energy use. In 2022, they added a new dashboard.
Facilities Management Energy Management team oversees the reliable, safe and efficient operation of mechanical, electrical and civil utilities systems for the Twin Cities campus. The group maintains the campus utility infrastructure and provides technical and engineering expertise to the U’s Capital Planning teams, Facilities Management groups and many departments across the UMN system. In addition, the group tracks and releases monthly energy metrics.
Policies and Plan to Reduce Overall Energy Consumption
The Board of Regents’ Sustainability and Energy Efficiency Policy was adopted in 2004 to integrate environmental, social, and economic goals through design, planning, and operational organization to meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sub Section 4: Energy Efficiency states: The University shall undertake a process to increase energy efficiency, reduce dependence on non-renewable energy, and encourage the development of energy alternatives through research and innovation.
Read the Full Policy
The University of Minnesota’s Main Energy Plant, which supplies energy to the Minneapolis campus, uses a unique combined heat and power system that is 83 percent energy efficient (more than double the efficiency of a coal-fired power plant). Since it began operating in 2017, the plant has helped reduce around one-tenth of the University’s carbon emissions and won the Adolfson & Peterson the MCA Award for Excellence for Green/Sustainable Project in 2018 and now has a tiktok account that offers a behind the scenes tour.
In 2019, Ever-Green Energy chose the University of Minnesota Morris for its Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality Program. Since then, the two organizations have worked together to develop sustainable energy pathways for the campus to pursue. These pathways will help guide UMN Morris in its plan to achieve full carbon neutrality. The resulting report pays particular attention to meeting the heating and cooling demands of the campus, since UMN Morris has already developed a carbon-neutral on-site clean electricity platform.
UMD’s Climate Action Plan, which was shared with the Board of Regents in Fall 2023, outlines steps to reduce energy use and the UMD campuses carbon footprint. Since electricity and energy use account for 90% of UMD’s greenhouse gas emissions, reducing energy use is a top priority to make the UMD campus more sustainable.
Energy demand and emissions strategies are a key component of UMTC's Climate Action Plan which was adopted in 2023. To achieve the University’s climate goals, buildings will need to be high-performing and regenerative, for both the University community and the environment. Energy demand strategies focus on improving energy efficiency through physical improvements and also consider the people, practices, and policy measures such as behavior changes, space utilization, and design/operation standards.
In Fall 2023, the Office of Sustainability brought back their Living Laboratory program. Living Labs seek to transform otherwise unused space on campus into opportunities to learn, research, and innovate sustainability on campus. Students, faculty, and staff are invited to propose projects, apply for funding, and start a Living Labs project.
Policy on Divesting from Carbon-Intensive Industries
The Board of Regents instituted an updated policy in 2023 related to its plans to divest from fossil fuels. The new policy requires the Endowment Fund to report annually on the evaluation of investments related to sustainability and renewable energy. Additionally, the University shall consider environmental, social, and governance responsibilities in its investment decisions. The policy encourages proactive sourcing of sustainable investments and investments managed by emerging/minority-owned firms. The policy also paves the process for incorporation of ESG in the due diligence process.
In 2022, the University of Minnesota joined the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) organization as a signatory and reporting member. The PRI is a United Nations-sponsored entity that promotes the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) priorities into institutional investment processes worldwide. While several U.S. universities are applying to PRI, only six others are current members. There are over 60 total signatories in the U.S. representing foundations, pension plans and insurance companies, including local organizations like the Minnesota State Board of Investments and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota.
Inform and Support Governments and Decision-Makers on Energy Policy
The B3 Guidelines, Sustainable Building 2030 Energy Standard and related tools—many of which were developed with the help of experts at the College of Design—form a connected network of performance standards and measures intended to support sustainable design to reduce energy expenditures, enhance the health, well-being and productivity of the building occupants, and improve the quality of the natural environment. The B3 Guidelines and the SB 2030 Energy Standard are required on State-funded projects in Minnesota, however they are easily applied to any project. B3 Benchmarking, B3 Energy Efficient Operations and the B3 Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) can evaluate and improve existing buildings.
Climate-Smart Municipalities, part of the International Energy Partnerships Project at the IonE, connects diverse international stakeholders and leaders in local and state government, politics, business, the nonprofit sector, academia, and the public to learn from each other and to speed up the transition to a more efficient and climate-friendly energy future at the local level.
In Spring 2023, the U of M was chosen to lead a multi-state effort to help rural, tribal, and underserved communities access federal funding for energy and environmental improvement efforts. The Great Lakes TCTAC will be administered at the University, but funds and assistance will be spread across six states and establish “one-stop shops” for grant assistance.
Researchers at STEP in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs conducted a two-year research project to investigate the landscape of Minnesota’s munis and co-ops. Their focus was on how these utilities are confronting new challenges and opportunities emerging from smaller-scale, often-more sustainable distributed energy resources, such as rooftop solar, community shared solar, LED light bulbs, controllable water heaters, and electric vehicles. A report of their findings, including recommendations for policy and decision makers, was released in 2019.