Electric co-ops continually learn to improve service for members

It’s a new school year and kids of all ages have begun a fresh year of learning! From kindergarten through college, students attend school to gain knowledge about a broad variety of subjects and learn new skills that will prepare them for the future. In a similar vein, Illinois’ electric cooperatives are continually learning in order to advance technology that improves electric service, reliability, safety and in turn, enhances quality of life for members in their local communities.

Illinois’ electric cooperatives keep abreast of industry trends because the energy sector rapidly changes. Innovations in technology and energy types fuel demand for more options. On the consumer front, people look for more ways to manage energy use with smart technologies. Consumers expect more convenient payment methods – whether through automatic bill pay, pre-pay, online or in person.

They work to help sift through the options for their members in ways that benefit the greater community. At the same time, they never lose sight of the top priority—providing safe, reliable and affordable electricity.

Technology improves operational efficiency

For example, automated meter reading (AMR) technology automatically collects energy consumption data and transfers it from the electric meter to the co-op. Because this information can be collected remotely, it enhances the system’s efficiency, helps control costs and improves work processes.

Similar to AMR, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is an integrated system of smart meters, communications networks and data management systems that enables two-way communication between utilities and consumers. In the event of an outage, AMI helps distinguish between events that impact a single home or multiple outages. This is critical because resolving either issue requires a different process. The two-way communication is integral to AMI because it provides a means to verify that power has been restored after an outage. However, one of the biggest benefits from improved technologies, especially for outages caused by extreme weather, is pinpointing the outage location. This helps reduce risk for crews on the road during severe weather events.

In addition to providing essential information during major outages, your cooperative analyzes AMI data for anomalies including faults, damaged meters or energy theft. Detecting these problems early helps your cooperative save money and improve reliability for the whole community.

Energy for the future

Consumer interest in green energy sources and renewables is at an all-time high. Nationally, the increasing use of solar energy is paving the way for new methods of generating and using electricity. In Illinois, community solar programs allow co-op members to share in a remote solar array that generates electricity from the sun. U.S. energy experts say we will not be able to meet national energy goals unless we increase our solar energy capacity.

That’s why Illinois electric cooperatives continue to research how best to adjust our energy mix using an all-of-the-above mix of solar, wind, natural gas and coal.

Whether it’s examining green energy options or exploring how emerging technologies can better serve members, for Illinois’ electric cooperatives, the “school year” is never over. They will continue to learn from members about their priorities for the future and study and research the issues so they can better serve you, now and in the future.