It takes a high-tech distribution system to run a microgrid.

And it takes a high-tech operations crew to maintain and repair it.

Microgrids and other technology-intense systems are improving reliability, meeting members’ needs, and helping control energy costs at electric cooperatives across the country. They’re also broadening the skillset of electric lineworkers, making laptops and tablets as common among crew gear as hotsticks and climbing spikes.

“We’re still required to climb,” says Jonathan Noles, who’s been a lineman for 10 years, his last four at Central Electric Cooperative in Stillwater, Oklahoma. But advanced technologies “allow us to problem-solve and troubleshoot no matter where we’re at, a substation or at a member’s house.”

And that’s good for safety: “It means not having to climb up there and inspect the line nearly as much.”

It’s also good for member service. First thing every morning, Noles and his fellow Central Electric linemen use their iPads to check the co-op’s advanced metering infrastructure to see which meters have blinked overnight, their locations, and any past problems.

“We can spot a low-voltage issue and resolve it before a member experiences it,” he says.

Larry Gordon, a 26-year veteran lineman at Central Electric, knows the value of troubleshooting problems before they impact members.

“The technology is keeping us ahead of everything,” he says. “It allows us to be proactive for future problems and prevent outages. We have more impact for our members on a daily basis.”

These new grid technologies are even strengthening internal collaboration, especially between operations and engineering, Noles says.

“It makes us communicate a lot better as a co-op,” he says. “It’s a lot better for everyone.”

Noles says his colleagues are generally eager to adopt these new tools.

“Most linemen get into this kind of work because they like a challenge,” he says.

And both Noles and Gordon agree that anything that keeps line crews safe and boosts member service is worth adopting.

“Safety and quality of service,” Noles says, “are two of the highest priorities we have.”

Return to the March cover story, “The Transforming Grid.”