eLab Accelerator 2019

Decarbonizing Minnesota’s Natural Gas End Uses

Project Objective

Develop a shared understanding of natural gas usage in MN, as well as the technologies and opportunities to decarbonize those end uses.

Examine opportunities and begin to develop a shared vision for the relative roles of electrification, biogas, power-to-gas in a decarbonization strategy.

Consider and assess the potential roles of natural gas and the natural gas utility in a deeply decarbonized economy.

Team Members

  • Brendan Jordan, Great Plains Institute

  • Trevor Drake, Great Plains Institute

  • Audrey Partridge, Center for Energy and Environment

  • Nick Mark, Centerpoint

  • Margaret Cherne-Hendrick, Fresh Energy

  • Luke Hollenkamp, City of Minneapolis

Project Description

While electrification of heating in concert with a decarbonizing electric grid offers benefits for customers and opportunities for emissions reductions, natural gas utilities are exploring innovative business models with the potential to offer their own opportunities. Projects to integrate Renewable Natural Gas directly into the natural gas system are emerging around the country, and there is a great deal of innovation occurring in Power-to-Gas both in the US and Europe.

At present, the role of the natural gas utility in a decarbonized economy is not clear. Beneficial electrification strategies champion the greenhouse gas mitigation potential of converting end-uses to electricity, especially in the transportation and building sectors. However, most proponents of electrification as a decarbonization strategy recognize that decarbonizing the last 10-20% of the economy will be exceedingly difficult and expensive. The natural gas utility model of the future and the role of existing natural gas infrastructure systems is contingent on identifying how natural gas and/or low carbon fuels will be most advantageously applied across particular economic sectors and geographies.

This team seeks to find common understanding of where different technologies may be most appropriate, and develop a vision of the portfolio of solutions required to decarbonizing end uses currently served by natural gas. Minnesota is in a unique position to lead on this conversation due to the cold climate and large heating load. There is a timely need for dialogue about the future of the natural gas system, and the relative roles of electrification and natural gas decarbonization.

Progress Made to Date


There is strong interest in natural gas system decarbonization in Minnesota, as evidenced by:

  • CenterPoint Energy, a natural gas utility, filing a proposal with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to create a voluntary Renewable Natural Gas tariff
  • Interest in Renewable Natural Gas projects in Minnesota in several parts of the state
  • Interest by the Midwest Renewable Energy Tracking System (MRETS) in creating a Renewable Natural Gas credit tracking system
  • Several bills in the legislature allowing beneficial electrification to qualify towards state energy efficiency goals
  • Strong interest by utilities in promoting beneficial electrification
  • Interest in giving the next phase of the E21 Initiative a focus on the future of the natural gas distribution system in a decarbonized world

At eA, this team deepened their understanding of natural gas utility business models, before diving deep into the potential technologies to decarbonize Minnesota’s natural gas end uses, laying out what was currently known, what the risks were, and what still needed to be researched. Understanding that the natural gas utility could evolve in a number of ways, the group began to outline and plan for a stakeholder process to more deeply examine the future of the natural gas utility and possibilities for decarbonizing end uses. This process will include both gas and electric utilities, large thermal users, government agencies, environmental groups, and more. Lastly, the group intends to solicit a study about the technical potential of various decarbonizing technologies in Minnesota.