How Utility Cooperatives Can Prepare For An Uncertain Future
Between legislation to further global decarbonization efforts and the tech disruption brought on by the proliferation of distributed energy resources (DERs), the modern grid is challenged more today than ever before. From distribution to generation and transmission (G&T) operations, utility cooperatives are tasked with finding low-cost, community-centered solutions to energy demand, while meeting regulatory requirements. While these pressures may manifest differently depending on the operation, managing affordable and reliable energy is at the heart of any utility cooperative’s struggles. From employing DERs to meet member needs to demand response programs, utilities have many options to satisfy their customer base.
Maintaining affordable rates is a struggle common to utility cooperatives. For distribution cooperatives, that means finding the power that they need at the lowest rates possible to ensure member satisfaction. Whether that’s through a G&T or finding resources elsewhere, distribution cooperatives are committed to providing the best value for their members. While accomplishing that is different for every utility cooperative, preparing today for tomorrow, can dramatically impact rate structures. Fortunately, there are forecasting tools to help any utility operation predict their electricity needs to keep up with shifting demands.
Purchasing represents an operational cost to distribution cooperatives. More importantly, because low rates are a member priority, it presents a challenge to overall satisfaction. Through forecasting technologies, utility cooperatives can manage these costs by planning for an ever-evolving need, shaped by extreme weather and a burgeoning prosumer culture by using real-time and historical data to anticipate potential demand. Because operations can plan, they can best strategize their purchasing needs in advance. As a bonus, the more forecasting software is employed, the more data it has to extrapolate from, leaving any operation with an increasingly robust dataset.
For utility cooperatives though, it’s more than just minimizing member costs, but in maintaining a reliable grid. With a progressively complex array of devices challenging load shapes and climate change-driven temperature extremes, grid reliability is no small task. Luckily, these two obstacles can work for, not against your operation, while simultaneously serving the utility community to meet the global Net-Zero 2050 initiatives that will reshape the energy landscape.
Embrace DER Technologies
With the proliferation of electric vehicles (EV) and their requisite charging needs, along with distributed energy resource (DER) technologies like rooftop photovoltaic solar panels, utility providers can turn an obstacle into an opportunity. Through the internet of things (IoT), utility cooperatives can connect various OEMs under a coordinated BYOD program that empowers both energy providers and members. These initiatives can include battery storage, which can include personal EVs, to reciprocally pull energy resources as needed through vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging and more.
Likewise, otherwise disparate DERs like personal renewable energy sources can be connected through a proper distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) to form a virtual power plant. With a virtual power plant, utility cooperatives can mitigate the need for dirty and costly peaker plants, while forging a sustainable path to a reliable grid.
Running parallel to DER initiatives, demand response programs are a conservation effort that can minimize the strain on the grid. Enrolled members can elect to participate in demand events, which are deployed during times of peak usage to conserve energy for the overall grid. With the right DERMS software, utility cooperatives can circumvent reliability issues by engaging their communities to participate.
For many utility cooperatives, necessary updates to the local infrastructure present a difficult material cost. Infrastructure improvements represent an inevitable cost that must be addressed to maintain continuity of service. While there may not be an immediate technological solution for that particular dilemma, there are software solutions to help utilities rally the support they need for the rate increases required to improve infrastructures.
As a community-driven operation, member satisfaction is an understandable priority for utility cooperatives. With customer engagement software, providers can educate their members on any costs associated with any potential rate increase. Through the use of tools like energy cost calculators or leaderboards, cooperatives can show members the value of their dollar, as well as the cost of not updating their infrastructure to reflect technological advancements.
Utility Cooperative Challenges Conclusion
Energy providers everywhere are struggling to keep up with technological change and regulatory pressures that are reshaping the utility landscape. For utility cooperatives, finding a way to reconcile those needs while maintaining member satisfaction is no small feat. There are solutions to help empower cooperatives to a better tomorrow, and we’re ready to empower our utility partners to reimagine the modern grid.