Improved efficiency of appliances and market acceptance of electric vehicles, combined with a host of new electronic conveniences, are changing how electric cooperatives meet consumer needs.
"Electricity is an important part of the future," said Keith Dennis, senior director of strategic initiatives for NRECA's Business and Technology Strategies department. Dennis cited smart home technology, member-owned energy storage and renewable energy generation as factors changing the relationships between co-ops and their consumer-members.
"This could lead to scenarios where we are actually using more electricity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said Dennis. "When you are electrifying a vehicle, you would otherwise be using gasoline. When you electrify a water heater, you are not using propane or natural gas—fossil fuels you would have to burn."
Dennis cited a global trend supporting widespread electrification of transportation and residential and commercial heating applications as effective keys to mitigating the effects of carbon emissions.
"You can't meet greenhouse gas goals by driving around millions of vehicles that burn gasoline or by burning natural gas in millions and millions of houses," Dennis said during NRECA's CONNECT conference in Salt Lake City last month. "We need to move to electricity."
The growth of consumer-owned wind and solar and the availability of energy storage technology, including residential battery systems, is expected to increase overall demand for electricity. Increased interest in energy efficiency is also changing the way consumers shop for electronics and appliances.
"It's getting harder to find refrigerators and televisions that are not Energy Star rated," said Alan Shedd, director of energy solutions for Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives.
Energy Star ratings are voluntary labeling standards used by a growing number of manufacturers to inform consumers that certain products meet or exceed specified efficiency guidelines. Developed and administered jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, Energy Star has been used in marketing campaigns since 1992.
From Pumps for Plugs
According to Shedd, home and workplace electric vehicle charging offer great opportunities for electric cooperatives, because that's where co-op consumer-members spend the bulk of their time.
"An electric vehicle driven about 11,000 miles a year uses about the same amount of electricity as an electric water heater," said Shedd. "Their operation is getting really economical."
There are opportunities to control energy costs by maximizing charging when renewable energy production is highest, due to available wind and solar generation, or charging at night when industrial or commercial needs decline, co-op officials said.
"Water heating storage is a good example," said Shedd. "But plugging in an electric vehicle to charge at night when demand is low is a great way to save."
And co-ops are catching on. Great River Energy operates a program designed to encourage EV owners and operators to recharge their vehicles overnight, taking advantage of renewable energy.
"Our program is called Revolt," said Andrea Pendergast, a communications specialist with the Maple Grove, Minnesota-based generation and transmission cooperative. "Any time they charge up, they can be assured that [their energy use] is being offset with 100 percent renewable energy at no additional cost to them."
The GRE-sponsored program uses dedicated energy credits to ensure that all power used by Revolt participants comes from renewable resources, primarily wind.
The G&T has also worked with member distribution co-ops to establish charging stations along routes to day-trip destinations popular among families living in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
"People can stop and charge their vehicles for 20 or 30 minutes, go exploring or spend time with their families," said Pendergast. "It's an opportunity to see sights you might have missed if you were just whizzing by on the highway toward your ultimate destination."