Emerging technology could help reduce costs and improve service

Advances in technology are allowing electric cooperatives to look at new ways to cut outage times, conduct business more efficiently, and improve service to members.

One technology that shows promise is down-line automation (DLA), which involves monitoring an electric distribution system — the wires and equipment that deliver power to homes and businesses — in real time and responding to problems automatically. DLA works by detecting trouble spots and performing steps to correct them — for example, opening and closing certain switches to keep power flowing until line crews can arrive and make repairs. This type of automated response can reduce the duration of an outage.

Another development is automated meter reading and advanced metering infrastructure technology, which can help determine the cause of a high bill. A meter can send data to the co-op automatically, and in time increments, to help analyze periods of high usage. Higher than normal bills may be caused by increased electric consumption during periods with extreme temperatures, or by a malfunctioning water pump, or a hot tub being left on all night. Data collection can help detect the cause.

Another technology, called voltage optimization, can make more efficient use of the electric grid. Conservation voltage reduction (CVR) aims to shave the amount of electricity used during times of peak demand — the electric utility's version of rush-hour traffic, when power costs are highest.

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