Tech-Driven Cooperation - Carolina Country

Tech-Driven Cooperation

Technology is taking our spirit of cooperation to new levels

By Jake Joplin

Jake Joplin

Jake Joplin

We sometimes get asked how we compare to much larger utilities. To answer the question, we like to explain how our unique business model allows us to excel.

We are local, member-owned electric cooperatives that follow the principle of “Autonomy and Independence.” That local independence gives us the opportunity to take the pulse of our communities, react quickly and develop solutions to improve the lives of our members.

For example, natural disasters come with their share of issues and lessons learned. Hurricane Florence impacted electric cooperatives across the state in 2018, and one unexpected problem that Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative (CCEC) crews faced was a fuel shortage for vehicles involved in power restoration. To solve this, our board of directors approved construction of a fleet fueling station at our cooperative headquarters. The station will keep our operations rolling both day-to-day and after a disaster. Our speed and flexibility as a locally owned cooperative gave us the ability to move quickly to approve, design and build the fueling system, and we had it in service for the 2019 hurricane season.

To complement our local independence, electric cooperatives are made strong by another core principle: “Cooperation among Cooperatives.” This is invaluable following major storms, as I’ve discussed before in this column (“Achieving the Impossible through the Cooperative Spirit,” November 2018, page 4). But new technology is taking our spirit of cooperation to new levels, opening up new opportunities for North Carolina’s electric cooperatives and our members.

“New technology is taking our spirit of cooperation to new levels”

Leaders from each co-op meet frequently at our statewide association headquarters in Raleigh to discuss new technology and how we can work together to leverage its benefits. This group combines personnel from all 26 co-ops to study and discuss energy saving programs and services for our membership. An electric vehicle (EV) charging network is one project that is being coordinated through these meetings, and $1 million in investments are being used to fund 21 charging stations across the state, including 10 DC fast chargers. Electric co-ops are pursuing additional funding resources to grow this network even further.

North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are unified under an effort to create a brighter energy future through three core values: low-carbon power; beneficial electrification (using electricity to make traditionally fossil-fuel power applications more efficient); and creating a more flexible grid. Technology like the EV charging network exemplifies these core values, as do other innovative projects like co-op microgrids around the state, battery storage, community solar gardens, and energy efficient smart thermostats and water heater controls.

Fuel Dock Thumbs Up

CCEC had its new fuel depot in service for the 2019 hurricane season.

Smart thermostats and water heater controls, in particular, are two examples of old concepts with new opportunities thanks to technology. In the case of water heater controls, some electric cooperatives are working with members to install controls that can be activated remotely, though cellular or Wi-Fi technology. During a period of high demand, such as a hot summer afternoon, the controls allow the electric co-op to switch off those water heaters for a brief period of time, reducing the amount of electricity purchased during peak periods, when prices are more expensive. The new controls have a built-in override feature to ensure hot water continues to be available, but the grid as a whole is made more efficient due to this technology and the opportunity it presents for cooperation. Switching off one water heater during a period of high demand won’t make much of a difference, but when hundreds — even thousands — can be switched off simultaneously, real efficiencies and cost savings start to add up.

CCEC is very appreciative of the opportunity to learn from fellow cooperatives that have been on the forefront of these new technologies and services. We look forward to a productive 2020, where we can continue to study innovation and technology, moving to implement energy service programs that make sense for our members.

About the Author

Jake Joplin is CEO and general manager for Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative in Newport.

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