New Technology Means Big Opportunities
The energy industry is changing in some pretty big ways.
You may not have noticed it at all, or you may have seen it through small changes: solar panels installed near your electric co-op; Wi-Fi-enabled lightbulbs selling for $15 at the hardware store; new thermostats that let you control your air conditioner from out of town. All of these little things add up to a different way of doing business for electric utilities.
Technology is a huge driver of change across many industries and products. But in the electric utility industry, technology-driven change at the consumer level is relatively new. Regulations have shaped and will continue to shape the future of our industry, but now technology is impacting how power is distributed and used. This creates opportunities on both sides of your electric meter.
First, the utility side. Technology is creating opportunities for electric utilities to do our jobs in ways we never considered before. That job—providing you with safe, reliable and affordable power—used to mean building power plants as needed and moving that power over long distances to your home. That system works well, but improved technology provides us with additional options, and I’m proud to say, America’s electric cooperatives are leaders in this type of innovation.
In a remote stretch of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, transmission lines from the mainland are vulnerable to frequent squalls, and backup diesel power can be expensive. Tideland EMC, in partnership with its cooperative supplier, NCEMC, is constructing a “microgrid” system to serve island residents. Localized solar panels with Tesla battery storage will supplement diesel generation. Energy efficiency technology, including Ecobee smart thermostats, will help trim both demand and members’ electric bills.
In the northwest part of the state, Surry-Yadkin EMC is establishing a similar microgrid at a vineyard utilizing solar panels and battery storage. Wake Electric is offering members a discounted rate to charge electric vehicles overnight, helping the co-op manage demand while creating savings for members. The list goes on.
You can already see how technology is creating more opportunities on the consumer side of the electric meter. You now have more control over how you use electricity than ever before. Co-op smartphone apps provide you with detailed information on how your home uses power and convenient bill pay options. You will have more opportunities to access renewable energy as it continues to become more affordable. And there are a host of “smart” appliance options that allow you to control energy use from outside the home.
All of this technology creates big opportunities. And here’s more good news: Electric cooperatives are in the best position to take advantage of it all. Empowering member-consumers is nothing new to us; it’s who we are. We’re thankful to now find ourselves with more ways to do it.
Joe Brannan is CEO of the North Carolina Electric Membership Corp. in Raleigh.