Transforming the electric industry

Great River Energy Discusses Coop Progress

Published In: Intelligent Utility Magazine January/February 2009


DESPITE CURRENT ECONOMIC WOES, THE FUTURE OF THE ELECTRIC industry is still filled with optimism. The intelligent utility will benefit the industry and society in many ways. Grid operations will be more efficient, capital investments will be deferred and informed customers will conserve more energy. A transformation of this magnitude will require significant time, funding and effort, which all have to come one step at a time. Electric cooperatives have a good start on making this transformation, but they still face challenges.


The intelligent utility will require integration and interoperability across multiple functions and organizations. This includes electric functions of supply and delivery, greater interaction with customers, and participation in power and energy markets, which will no doubt involve much more information, with the input data much more granular than in the past. Of course, digital technologies can help, with communications as the backbone, accessible data repositories and applications providing information and automation.

Several generation and transmission cooperatives have implemented enterprise solutions that meet their own needs and will also help their distribution members prepare for the future. Great River Energy has implemented an IP-based communications network which connects all substations and is also available for member cooperatives. Most members do not have their own supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, but instead receive real-time telemetry services from Great River Energy. The communications network simplifies those processes and enables advanced applications to enhance system sizing and distribution automation.

Several generation and transmission cooperatives, including Great River Energy, have a load management system that benefits individual member cooperatives and the membership as a whole. The systems help defer capacity needs, reduce high-priced energy purchases and improve load factor. Growing emphasis on energy efficiency, conservation and demand response urges the transition from direct load control programs to more comprehensive demand side management programs.

With increasing numbers of intermittent renewable sources, even the energy supply patterns are changing. There is a widening gap between peak demand and average demand. There is a similar gap between peak prices and average prices.

There are strong economics to manage supply and to manage demand. There are incentives for market arbitrage between on-peak and off-peak prices.


But we have to look much further thanprogress just technology and inspire transformation on other fronts as well. This is an opportunity to revamp our business objectives and processes.

For example, utilities are transforming their relationships with customers, for the purposes of attaining engagement and more frequent interaction with them. It will no longer be a clean provider-consumer relationship. The relationship will be a business partnership, focus on how with utilities playing a new role to help customers grid/intelligent understand and control how much wide effort.electricity they use, when intelligent utility they use it and essentially to help them manage their energy costs. Customers'access to their billing and energy consumption information will be got all of its increasingly important.


These transformations call for a comprehensive undertaking, which can be especially difficult for smaller utilities such as cooperatives. They may not have the financial means, customer base, business process focus or technical resources to acquire and support complex systems, let alone the ability to integrate through all the other business systems they have. This will not be accomplished through one grand project, but rather through several smaller efforts that build upon one another. Even then, coordinating the smart grid initiatives among multiple cooperatives, mitigating risks of technologies and managing the investments needed in a collective manner may be particularly challenging.


Electric cooperatives have a good start in a couple of important areas. Distribution cooperatives traditionally have strong relationships with their customers. Also, they already collaborate and operate with other organizations for the delivery of electricity. Generation and transmission cooperatives provide wholesale services and interact with markets, while distribution cooperatives provide retail services and interact with customers.

Sharing systems and investments among cooperatives is not a new notion. They have cooperated in both areas in the past with both good and bad results. The Cooperative Research Network has a study under way to look at shared systems among cooperatives and where they may make sense and to provide guidance on the opportunities and risks of acquiring and using shared systems.


The future is on its way. The time for us to think big is now. Think big with ambition and optimism to plan for the long-term future. But to manage the enormity of this transformation, start small. Start small with prudence and agility to deliver real results for short-term success.

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