NEW ORLEANS—As co-ops increasingly invest in smart meter technology, it’s crucial to develop a strategy to make the best use of the data that is flooding in, experts told co-op leaders at NRECA’s Annual Meeting.

Analyzed properly, data can help co-ops reduce the cost of providing energy, save money for members, and inform better decisions about where to invest resources to improve operations, speakers said during two days of breakout sessions. But co-ops first need to look at their data collection today and plan a strategy for how they want to use data in the next three to five years, the experts said.

“Consider data as a co-op asset, not unlike your poles and wires,” said John Hewa, chief financial officer at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative. “There are opportunities to leverage the information.”

Bill Andrew, president and CEO of Delaware Electric Cooperative, said his co-op has been able to use advanced metering infrastructure data to determine if there is a problem in the grid. Sensors can find bad connections and voltage data can let a co-op know if there’s a faulty transformer, he said. Weather data can help co-ops predict how much energy people will use.

With the data it collects on members, the co-op can launch 66,000 emails in seconds to ask members to call their state lawmakers and lobby for or against legislation that affects the co-op, Andrew said.

“Once you get comfortable with data, it’s a completely different way of looking at problems,” Andrew said.

Krishnan Kasiviswanathan, chief operating officer at Innowatts, a Houston-based company that provides AMI-enabled predictive analytics to energy companies, said one of his customers in upstate New York was able to use AMI to identify the business with the biggest load in the utility’s service area. The electric company then reached out to that business to ask if it wanted surge protection before a big thunderstorm hit. The data allowed the utility to offer a new service and show customers that they were anticipating their needs, he said.

“Be the first one to introduce something in the market,” Kasiviswanathan said. “Be the market-maker.”

Usage data from AMI also can show co-ops which members might benefit most from time-of-use rates that encourage off-peak energy consumption, he said. It can also pinpoint members whose energy costs seem unusually high.

“You can tell a customer: ‘Check your HVAC system. It’s not working properly,’” Kasiviswanathan said.

And, for co-ops working to increase their use of renewable energy, data analytics can help identify the best ways to achieve that goal, he said.

As co-ops collect more data on their members, it’s important to protect the privacy of their information, experts said.

“There is a renewed sense of urgency on consumers’ part to understand what you’re doing with their data,” said Doug Remboldt, vice president of member success at National Information Solutions Cooperative, which provides software and hardware to co-ops for billing, accounting, engineering and operations.

He advised co-ops to reach out to members proactively and inform them about their data privacy policies. Co-ops should collect only the data necessary to serve their members, and “if you don’t need it, don’t collect it,” Remboldt said.

Co-ops should think twice before providing members’ data to outside organizations or businesses that use it to sell products to consumers, said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at the Consumer Federation of America.

“You can endanger member trust in your organization when you do something with their data that they don’t expect,” she said.

Co-ops with questions on data strategy and analytics should contact Venkat Banunarayanan, NRECA’s senior director of integrated grid, in Business & Technology Strategies. He can be reached at Venkat.Banunarayanan@nreca.coop or at 703-907-6129.

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