Latest News

With more electric cars coming, Minnesota officials consider charging network

Thousands of electric cars could soon be rolling on Minnesota’s roads, spurring discussions about how to keep them all juiced for long hauls from Austin to Alexandria or Blue Earth to Bemidji.

Still a novelty in the state, electric vehicles are poised at the edge of the mainstream with the coming release of several more affordable models boasting lengthy ranges. Minnesotans could buy a Chevrolet Bolt as of July 1, and the Tesla Model 3 began production this week — a year after dozens lined up at the Eden Prairie dealership to reserve one. Volvo announced Wednesday it would transition to manufacturing only hybrid or electric vehicles beginning in 2019.

“There is a sense that we’re sort of on the cusp of exponential growth here,” said David Thornton, an assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The state has fewer than 5,000 plug-in electric cars today, and only about 1,600 of those rely solely on battery power. Read more

Minnesota Commission Gives Green Light for Xcel Energy’s Largest Upper Midwest Wind Expansion

MINNEAPOLIS--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Yesterday the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved Xcel Energy’s plan for the largest expansion of wind energy in the Upper Midwest. The North Dakota Public Service Commission will review the plan later this year.

The new wind projects will save Xcel Energy customers billions of dollars in fuel and other costs, as compared to the costs of other energy sources. Seven new wind farms are slated to be built in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota and will be operational by the end of 2020. The projects will provide enough energy to power more than 800,000 homes, increasing Xcel Energy’s regional wind output by approximately 70 percent.

“We’re investing in low-cost wind energy to provide the benefits of clean, affordable energy directly to our customers,” said Chris Clark, president, Xcel Energy-Minnesota. “These projects deliver on our plan to keep energy costs low while also reducing carbon emissions by more than 60 percent in the coming decades.” Read more

France Plans to End Sales of Gas and Diesel Cars by 2040

France is joining a growing movement to force the extinction of vehicles that run on fossil fuels, saying on Thursday that it would aim to end the sale of gasoline and diesel cars by 2040.

The target is less ambitious than ones set by countries like Norway and India. Still, coming from a major car-producing country, France’s declaration gave additional momentum to efforts to fight climate change and urban smog by promoting the use of electric cars.

The timing of the announcement was also significant, a day after the automaker Volvo said it would phase out the internal combustion engine, and during a visit to Europe by President Trump. The announcement by Nicolas Hulot, the French environment minister, was an expression of European leaders’ determination to pursue an environmental agenda despite Mr. Trump’s repudiation of the Paris agreement on climate change.

“It’s a very difficult objective,” Mr. Hulot said Thursday. “But the solutions are there.” Read more

Costs to Acquire US Residential Solar Customers Are High and Rising

The amount of money a company needs to spend in order to sell a residential solar system continues to be a major challenge for the solar industry.

In fact, the cost for an installer to acquire a residential customer in the U.S. has actually risen, even while the cost of every other component in the cost stack has plunged. Customer acquisition includes all costs to obtain leads, as well as all sales and marketing costs related to closing a sale.

GTM Research expects a 27 percent drop in average global project prices by 2022. The fall will come from declining module costs, as well as reductions in inverter, tracker and even labor costs.

Meanwhile, customer acquisition costs have grown over the past few years -- increasing from $0.41 per watt in 2013 (or $2,870 per customer based for a 7-kilowatt system) to $0.52 per watt in 2016 ($3,668 per customer). Costs are expected to rise again this year (to a total of $3,898 per customer).

These stats are from a recently published report written by GTM Research Solar Analyst Allison Mond, the author of U.S. Residential Solar PV Customer Acquisition 2017: Current and Projected Costs and Channel Strategies.

By Mond's calculation, the average cost of acquiring a solar customer currently represents a disproportionate 17 percent of the total system cost. Furthermore, while customer acquisition costs are set to fall to $0.40 cents per watt in the forecast's out years, this slice will actually grow to 20 percent of the residential system's $2.00-per-watt cost. Read more

The Electric Car Revolution Is Accelerating

Electric cars will outsell fossil-fuel powered vehicles within two decades as battery prices plunge, turning the global auto industry upside down and signaling economic turmoil for oil-exporting countries.

The Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast says adoption of emission-free vehicles will happen more quickly than previously estimated because the cost of building cars is falling so fast. The seismic shift will see cars with a plug account for a third of the global auto fleet by 2040 and displace about 8 million barrels a day of oil production—more than the 7 million barrels Saudi Arabia exports today. Read more

Even as renewables increase, fossil fuels continue to dominate U.S. energy mix

Fossil fuels have provided more than 80% of total U.S. energy consumption for more than 100 years. Since 1928, when consumption of natural gas surpassed that of biomass, the three fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—have been the most consumed fuels in the United States. In 2016, fossil fuels accounted for 81% of total U.S. energy consumption, the lowest fossil fuel share in the past century.

In 2016, the renewable share of energy consumption in the United States was 10.5%. This was the largest renewable share since the 1930s, when overall energy consumption was lower and the amount of biomass consumption (mainly wood) was relatively high. The greatest growth in renewables over the past decade has been in solar and wind electricity generation. Liquid biofuel consumption—more than half of which is ethanol blended into motor gasoline—has also increased in recent years, contributing to the growing renewable share of total energy consumption.

In addition to the increasing share of renewables, the decline in the fossil fuel share of consumption is attributable mainly to declines in coal consumption. U.S. coal consumption fell nearly 9% in 2016, following a 14% drop in 2015. Overall, U.S. coal consumption has declined almost 38% since 2005. In each of the past 20 years, the power sector has accounted for more than 90% of total U.S. coal consumption. Read more

Don’t be shocked by the surge of state employees in electric cars

Your chances of spotting a government employee at a Minnesota gas station are getting slimmer.

The state is converting more of its fleet to electric vehicles, saying the plug-in cars save taxpayers thousands on gas while also cutting air pollution.

The vehicle fleet got a little more electric on Thursday with the arrival of 22 new Chevy Bolts. The Minnesota Department of Administration announced the purchase but not all of the Bolts will belong to the state. Read more

The Rise Of Wind Energy Raises Questions About Its Reliability

Steven Somsen's farm got a new addition last year, breaking up fields of wheat and soybeans that span as far as the eye can see from his rural North Dakota home.

"We ended up with some towers on our property," he says, nodding toward the giant, spinning, white wind turbines dotting the farmland around his house.

Xcel Energy, a Midwest-based utility, installed three on his land, among the 100 turbines placed near his remote community of Courtenay.

"It's something different to look at," he says. "Some of [my neighbors] say they don't like them. The other ones say it's fine. Don't bother me none."

In the windy Great Plains, it's not just the placement of these large towers, which have been welcomed by some, yet cause for concern for others.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry earlier this year ordered a study of the nation's electric grid to see if renewable energy is threatening the grid's reliability. It's slated to wrap up in July.

North Dakota's coal industry is also growing uneasy. A decade ago, coal produced 90 percent of the state's power, according to the Energy Information Administration. Today, it's down to 71 percent as wind fills in the gap. Nationally, cheap natural gas is proving a major competitor as well.

This spring, state Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, proposed halting the development of new wind farms for two years, though his legislation ultimately failed.

"Clean is great, but we've still got to have reliability," he says. "We can't let go of that because without reliable electricity, we're in the dark." Read more

Signs For Fast-Charging Stations Now On I-94 In Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Not sure where you can charge an electric car along Interstate 94 in northern Minnesota? Well, now there’s some easy-to-spot roadside answers.

MnDOT announced Thursday that new “Electric Vehicle Charging Stations” signs are up on the interstate north of St. Cloud, telling motorists where they can find public, fast-charging stations nearby. Read more

At Xcel, we'll stay on a clean energy path

It’s a privilege to work in the energy business, alongside people who are committed to keeping the lights on every day, while also rolling up their sleeves to tackle tough challenges like protecting our environment. Since the U.S. pulled out of the Paris climate accord several weeks ago, at a time when federal carbon emissions rules have been put on hold, there have been many questions around where Xcel Energy stands and what happens next. Read more