Electric cooperatives face challenges in better serving their members, and the equipment, technology, and partners they turn to for solutions will be on display at the TechAdvantage® 2018 Conference & Expo.

“Electric co-ops have critical roles to play in building and maintaining an increasingly more complex electric grid and meeting member-consumer expectations,” says Jim Spiers, NRECA’s vice president of business and technology strategies. “Distributed generation, renewables, storage, consumer controls, and enhanced efficiency tools are changing the ways cooperatives serve our members.”

Held in conjunction with NRECA’s 76th Annual Meeting, the premier trade show and technology conference for electric co-ops moves into Nashville’s Music City Convention Center February 25 through 28. More than 300 exhibitors will be on hand to display their products and services.

Pre-conference training sessions on February 25 include seminars on Rural Utilities Service engineering, cybersecurity incident-response planning, and photovoltaic (PV) system maintenance.

“We’ve partnered with the IEEE Rural Electric Power Conference this year, so some of their leading presenters will be among our featured speakers,” says Mary Ackleson, TechAdvantage program manager.

Many of the presentations will focus on emerging benefits provided by smart grid components, including PV tracking systems and distribution fault anticipation technology, Ackleson says.

“Engineers, technical experts, and academic researchers who work closely with utilities will be discussing systems and processes that co-ops are using to enhance value for their members today.”

Nearly 60 breakouts and 20 Technovation sessions are scheduled February 26 through 28. Many of the sessions February 27 will deal with operations topics.

Ackleson notes that Nashville is less than a day’s drive from many co-ops in the Mid-South region, and she encourages staff of those co-ops to find a way to attend.

Student-Centered Activities

NRECA is hosting student-centered activities at TechAdvantage funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment initiative (GEARED). The program builds on an education and training framework designed to prepare future utility professionals to handle an influx of renewables into the electric generation mix.

“The goal is to provide students who are still trying to make decisions about career choices the opportunity to meet cooperative employees and vendors,” says Patti Metro, NRECA’s manager of transmission and reliability standards and an adviser for NRECA’s Next Generation Workforce initiative. “We want students to know that this is an interesting, fun, and innovative industry and that cooperatives are focused on providing opportunities for the next generation of employees.”

Among the hundreds of products displayed across the exhibit hall will be bucket trucks, the latest in electric utility safety gear, drones and other specialized operations equipment, vehicle charging stations, and wind generation and solar components.

“Electric co-ops spend more than $4 billion upgrading and maintaining their systems each year,” says Eric Commodore, NRECA’s director of meeting and event planning. “We’ve added a hands-on technology demonstration space to TechAdvantage this year so visitors will be able to get a good look at some of the technology they can use to serve their members better.”