Features from the Farm 032214
Renewable Energy Scientist
Putting the price of electricity in Minnesota in perspective
The wind turbine at the West Central Research and Outreach Center begins producing electricity when the wind speed reaches 7.8 miles per hour at 230 feet, and will reach its maximum production of 1.65 megawatts of electricity at wind speeds of 29 miles per hour.
I have been working on a research project that examines the amount of fossil fuels used in fertilizer production. In conjunction with research partners from Sweden, we have looked at factors related to the production of electricity in Minnesota and Sweden. One of the interesting observations of the data is how much variation there is in the methods used for production of energy and the resulting price; not just around the world, but even within the United States. To provide a little perspective on differences in electricity prices, I gathered data from two very different states along with data from Sweden.
In the United States, the state of Hawaii has the most expensive electricity in the nation at an average of 36 cents per kW hour for residential customers. This compares to Minnesota at 12.5 cents and Sweden at roughly 30 cents. Two main factors account for this price difference: energy resources and environmental impacts of energy generation. In Hawaii, there are no fossil energy resources. Therefore, the state must import large amounts of petroleum and coal to generate electricity (see the chart below). While Minnesota must also import large amounts of fossil coal, it can be brought in by rail from other nearby states. Minnesota also has the advantage of being near low cost hydroelectric production from adjacent states and provinces. In the case of Sweden, their primary sources of energy (hydroelectricity and nuclear) are relatively inexpensive. However, to promote conservation and raise funds for encouraging the private sector to develop renewable energy alternatives, Sweden has higher taxes on electricity.
One of the most interesting observations is how much change can be seen in the US mix of power production over time. Newer, more efficient electrical generation facilities are slowly replacing older facilities that are not as economically viable or that are emitting too much pollution. In several states throughout the US, including Minnesota, renewable sources are become a bigger part of the overall mix. Wind power now produces roughly 12 percent of Minnesota’s home grown energy, up from almost no wind energy 15 years ago.
While many Minnesotans may feel their electricity prices are very high, they are actually among some of the lowest in the industrialized world. Traditionally, this was because of the vast amount of fossil fuel resources and hydroelectricity. The additions of renewable energy resources, improved power plant efficiency, and energy conservation have served to keep energy costs low in the region. The continuing improvement in wind, solar, and biomass technologies will likely help keep power costs low in the future as the region has abundant wind, sun, and forestry/agricultural biomass supplies. In other areas of the country, including Hawaii, this technology is already being welcomed as a way to lower costs, spur economic development, and produce clean energy.
For more information about renewable energy projects and research conducted at the WCROC, please visit our website at wcroc.cfans.umn.edu.