Imagine this — 75 years from now a co-op boardroom could very well be grappling with how much the co-op will pay members to accept the excess electricity the co-op is producing.

Unthinkable?  Maybe.

But, thinking about some of those hard-to-imagine scenarios was the task laid before those who attended the 2016 NRECA Annual Meeting. Built around the theme of “The Next Greatest Thing,” general session speakers zeroed-in on today’s disruptive technologies and what it could mean for co-ops and society at large.

Salim Ismail, director of Singularity University, said the pace of technological breakthroughs is already constructing a world that shifts so quickly that is difficult to comprehend.

Using solar energy as an example, Ismail said this technology is now poised to double its generation capacity at the same time its production costs are sharply falling.  Following this trajectory would mean that in just 21 years, he said, solar could generate all of the planet’s electricity. This factors point to a situation of such abundant electric energy that negative grid pricing could become an issue facing electricity providers.

And, negative grid pricing helped along by growing numbers of renewable resources has already happened in Australia, last September, Ismail said.  If this sounds far- fetched, you can find examples closer to home too – in Texas, for instance. Click here to read about the Texas experience.

See yet another article about negative grid pricing here.

For an introduction to the concept of negative pricing, look here.

Ismail’s whirlwind presentation challenged cooperative leaders to foresee other influences that future boardrooms across the globe may have to deal with.

For example, it is possible that economic efficiencies offered by vertical farms constructed as skyscrapers could serve as an irrigation load for the co-op of the future. Robotic line crews could augment a co-op’s outside services while grid operations could be managed by artificial intelligence.

Noting that while “society is not ready for some of the disrupters,” Ismail said technological innovation guarantees huge change.

“We are entering a world where you are the disrupter or the disrupted,” he cautioned, citing the decimation of monolithic newspaper and music corporations by Google and iTunes or the decline of  taxi cab services or the hotel industry by consumer-sharing mobile apps — Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

Comparatively small groups – especially outside the industry they are attacking – can prevail by using new business models and technologies. “Disruption always comes from outside your industry,” he said.

Co-ops, however, are well-positioned to deal with the changes because they are small enough to be nimble, flexible and adaptive. Also, an advantage co-ops have is a healthy relationship with their members, Ismail noted.

The question is whether co-ops will see the challenges as an opportunity and become their own next greatest thing.

  • Watch a video of Salim Ismail’s presentation.

  • Need a good place to stay abreast of the latest in technology? Go to singularityhub.com

  • Read a survey compiling the thoughts of 1000 business leaders on the drivers of disruptive innovation


Check out other Annual Meeting speakers on dealing with change as well as “bread and butter” co-op topics:

  • Keynote speaker Jack Uldrich, an author and futurist, spoke on the necessity of “unlearning” as a strategy to embrace sweeping changes. He challenged the audience to view the world from different perspectives. Watch the video.

  • Chip Heath, a researcher, author and Stanford University professor, told attendees in his keynote address that co-ops are already masters at making change. Watch his video (starts at 7:23)

View all the forums and presentations at the Annual Meeting  here.

Read ECT.coop coverage of the 2016 Annual Meeting here.

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