The convergence of the electric generation and consumer sides of the utility business, along with the intersection of energy and telecommunications, is rapidly transforming electric cooperatives, NRECA CEO Jim Matheson told an audience at the U.S. Energy Association's annual State of the Energy Industry Forum.

With a growing focus on end-use consumers as active participants in the market, cooperatives and other utilities are managing energy on both sides of the meter.

"Consumers of all sizes are constantly shifting from taking electricity from the grid to pushing electricity onto the grid," Matheson said at the Jan. 18 event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

This transition, he said, also includes the evolution of digital networks that are required to run smart grids and fully integrate distributed energy resources. A broadband fiber backbone allows two-way dataflow between the utility and its substations for smart technologies, such as water heaters.

Electric co-ops have been "aggressive in making sure they have a fiber backbone in their system to provide the services necessary for the 21st century."

With the development of new technologies and the convergence of electricity and telecom, "there are new choices behind the meter for consumers," said Matheson. "It is incumbent upon us, the co-ops, to make sure we have informed conversations to make the best value of these opportunities."