East River Electric Power Cooperative and its member distribution co-ops now allow members to use Wi-Fi-enabled dashboards for some load control applications such as irrigation. (Photo By: Agsense)
"It's like replacing an old rotary dial telephone with new smartphone technology," Jeff Rud, power supply specialist at East River Electric Power Cooperative, said of its new Wi-Fi-based system.
For decades, simple load control switch boxes were built by the G&T and installed and maintained by distribution co-ops. Today, "Operators can monitor and control these systems from their cell phones," said Reggie Gassman, manager of customer electrical services for Sioux Valley Energy.
The Colman, South Dakota-based co-op has about 200 irrigation systems controlled by nearly 130 members. Many have already made the switch, deactivating the hardwired controllers.
"This is really going to help farmers responsible for leased fields or family holdings. Some of them had to drive 15 or 20 miles just to reactivate their pivots," said Gassman.
East River's Rud says it sure beats the old system.
"Techs previously had to drive out to handle any problems on co-op equipment and make repairs in muddy fields during the irrigation season," said Rud.
Interoperability standards compatible with several systems were developed in late 2015, and testing began during the 2016 irrigation season for corn and soybeans. A new incentive program was rolled out in August so farmers could enroll for the 2018 growing season.
East River has added irrigation from three manufacturers to the list of eligible third-party control vendors. Rebates are also being offered on one manufacturer's grain bin equipment with similar control capabilities. And they see lots of room for expansion.
"This is our next-generation load control system, and it's not just for agricultural producers," said Rud. "We see opportunities to apply the same type of dashboard-based third-party management to residential and commercial accounts for water heating and climate control."
Load management has saved East River's 25 member distribution co-ops about $188 million in wholesale power costs since 1984. Nearly 60,000 members in South Dakota and western Minnesota are enrolled in energy-savings programs for irrigation, water heaters, air conditioners and other equipment.