Electric cooperatives play a critical role in the United States electric utility industry – serving more than 42 million members across 48 states. They gathered in Nashville, Tennessee for TechAdvantage® 2022 to connect on the issues that matter most to their communities. Here’s what we heard:
Cooperatives are running fiber optics and capitalizing on the opportunity to become internet service providers. In fact, electric cooperatives are one of the fastest-growing broadband providers – particularly in previously unserved or underserved rural communities.
Broadband offers benefits for both consumers and cooperatives. It provides cooperative members with better access to job opportunities, virtual healthcare, online learning and consumer savings through online shopping. At the same time, fiber optics are the best way for a utility to talk with a substation and remote areas of the grid, which improves grid reliability as well as enables cooperatives to identify outages and speed restoration of service. However, cooperatives should balance benefits with potential pitfalls. For example, full network penetration to all customers is unlikely. Further, the cost to install fiber over large service areas can be cost-prohibitive. For these reasons and more, many cooperatives choose to use a combination of wireless communications (such as the Sensus FlexNet® Communication Network with its ability to communicate over long distances) and broadband for managing their grid. Cooperatives must also consider the expertise and time required to manage internet networks. Many are choosing to bring on partners to manage this piece.
Sustainability and electrification are already impacting the day-to-day operations and future planning of cooperatives. Cooperatives and car manufacturers alike agree that electric vehicles and other sustainability initiatives are having or will soon have a significant impact on rural and urban cooperatives. If a cooperative can manage the additional load on their grid, they have an opportunity to provide more benefits and more service to their members. For cooperatives serving more densely populated regions, the trend is an increase in electric vehicle charging. Conversely, rural cooperatives are seeing an increase in the use of solar panels. All of these changes require knowing what’s going on at every point in your system, and managing it accordingly.
Cooperatives continue prioritizing resilience across their service area. Microgrids and Distributed Energy Resources were just two specific ways cooperatives shared how they are improving resilience at the grid edge and for priority customers like hospitals, time-sensitive manufacturing sites and more. More cooperatives are exploring migrating from Power Line Carrier (PLC) systems to Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) to improve resilience and system flexibility for their members, obtain access to more data, and improve the ability to perform more tasks remotely. Access to more data enables cooperatives to make more informed decisions in real-time, allowing them to be more proactive – making life better for their members.
Member service is one theme that resounded throughout the event – as always. As cooperatives adopt new technology and understand how these shifts in the grid impact their operations, they will continue their focus on members and the communities they serve. To learn more about how Sensus’s AMI system creates a better customer experience for your members, click here.