Minnesota looks to lakes for wind energy

December 25, 2011 by  

Minnesota is looking at ways to provide people with more renewable energy, and it’s not hard to see why. Xcel Energy, based in Minneapolis, must provide 30 percent of its energy via renewable resources by 2020. The University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resource Research Institute (NRRI) released a study last week; it concluded that ponds in Minnesota’s Iron range could be used to harness renewable wind energy, which could be integrated into Minnesota’s grid.

The process would involve pumping water from the lakes to a higher-elevation holding pond with excess late-night wind energy. When demand increases, the process would be reversed, sending water back to the lower-elevation ponds, turning turbines as it flows downhill. Researchers are positive about using this pumped-hydro storage process, and local print companies could help gain support for the project through brochure printing and other services.

“The altered landscape of the Iron Range makes it ideal for this purpose,” NRRI Director Don Fosnacht said. “There are over 100 mining pits, and those near ridges and cliffs would provide the necessary water reservoir prospects to allow the concept to be practically implemented,” he added.

This process would provide nearly 80 megawatts of electricity for every 100 megawatts used to pump the water to the elevated holding ponds. This may not seem like much, but a single megawatt of power could sustain 225 to 300 households for an entire year. This explains why researchers in Minnesota are so switched on by the idea.