Upgrades boost reliability, affordability, and efficiency
Extreme weather events—such as Superstorm Sandy last fall—highlight problems that utilities face in restoring power to an aging electric grid. However, thanks to innovative advances, electric cooperatives are leading the electric industry in modernizing their systems.
In late 2009, more than 50 electric cooperatives and public power districts in 15 states captured $215.6 million in smart grid investment and demonstration grants from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), amounts that are being matched with local funds. Great River Energy and two of its member cooperatives, Lake Region Electric Cooperative, based in Pelican Rapids, Minn., and Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative, based in Jordan, Minn., were among those receiving grants.
The support, provided under the federal stimulus bill, has further cemented the status of cooperatives as trailblazers in crafting cutting-edge ways to bolster service, enhance reliability, and keep electric bills affordable.
“There has been plenty of hype about the smart grid; now we’re finding out what works and what doesn’t,” said Martin Lowery, NRECA executive vice president, external affairs.
Great River Energy is part of a demonstration project that includes meter data management (MDM) software to help manage the flood of information provided by smart meters. Because the 28 member cooperatives that comprise Great River Energy may have different systems, the MDM system will be vital to tracking and categorizing that information, and enabling cooperatives to develop effective programs based on the data.
Other components of the project include: the installation of in-home displays to signal homeowners when electricity prices spike; the ability for customers to access their electricity usage data via the web; enhanced demand response management tools; and a demonstration of energy storage devices, including residential battery storage systems and grid-interactive electric thermal storage water heaters.
“What we learn from this project will help us better understand where we need to advance and develop our grid.,” said Great River Energy Demand Response and Emerging Technologies Lead Eddie Webster. “The end goal of our smart grid development is to provide more efficient, affordable and reliable electricity for cooperative members.”
The Power of Cooperation
“Cooperation among cooperatives,” the Sixth Cooperative Principle, is the driver behind cooperatives’ willingness to collaborate for the good of all. Not only do cooperatives team up for research efforts, but they also help one other during natural disasters, large outage situations or other times of need.
When most electric co-ops began organizing in the 1930s, it wasn’t CEOs or managers who turned the lights on. It was the members. Neighbors came together to achieve a common goal—bringing central station electric service to their homes, farms, and businesses—and with it the promise of a better life.
The mission of electric co-ops then, as now, is to empower members to improve the quality of life in their communities. Electricity was just the start.
By working together, co-ops and members achieved the greatest engineering marvel of the 20th century—electrifying rural America. That same spirit guides this research to improve how cooperatives serve members.