By coordinating new resources from across the electric grid, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have established a virtual power plant that helps offset the need for traditional power generation and gives cooperative members more convenience and control over their energy use than ever before.
Power no longer moves in a linear path from cooperative to consumer; instead, it is generated and stored by a wide variety of resources. Many of these distributed energy resources stem directly from consumer-members, including smart thermostats and water heater controls, residential solar, and even electric vehicles, which act as a battery and store energy while they are charging. North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are also pursuing a range of innovative energy solutions, from microgrids to solar and storage, that further contribute to enhanced grid flexibility and efficiency.
The virtual power plant strategically coordinates and dispatches all of these interconnected resources across a central platform to meet electricity demand and balance traffic on the grid to ensure that power is reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible.
Community solar offers a low-cost, low-risk way for cooperative members to benefit from solar technology. This collective solar effort provides a more affordable alternative to the traditional process of purchasing permanently installed solar equipment, and the shared solar model allows members to work together for the common good.
Eleven North Carolina electric cooperatives have installed 18 community solar farms totaling 2 megawatts (2,050 kilowatts) on sites well suited for generating solar power. In most cases, co-op members purchase the energy rights of solar panels in return for a credit on their monthly electric bill.
Contact your local cooperative for more information about the community solar options available in your area.
The perfect complement to solar power, energy storage allows us to capture energy from a source and store it for use when needed, giving electric cooperatives new opportunities to provide better service and increased cost savings for cooperative members.
North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are implementing solar and battery storage technologies to make the electric grid more resilient, dynamic, flexible and efficient. These investments support the cooperative promise to deliver the most reliable and affordable power possible and allow for the expanded integration of solar energy as we work to achieve a lower carbon future for North Carolina.
Deploying solar and storage technologies together makes solar energy a more versatile resource. Solar is only available when the sun is shining, but pairing it with battery storage allows the stored solar energy to be used as needed.
Batteries are also an important part of our five microgrid projects. Their application in these living laboratories has led to the discovery of future uses for the technology. Electric cooperatives are currently considering ways to incorporate energy storage within their infrastructure and with member partners.
North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are also using technology to bring members together to manage peak demands for electricity. These efforts reduce not only home energy use and costs, but also wholesale power costs, providing benefits to the entire cooperative membership.
Smart thermostats are a great energy-saving tool because they automatically adjust to your daily schedule and help you use less energy. Because they are connected to the internet, they can also be controlled remotely from your phone, tablet or computer. These thermostats can also receive Wifi signals from your cooperative to adjust temperatures slightly and save energy during times of high demand for power without compromising comfort. Many cooperatives offer discounts on internet-connected smart thermostats, such as ecobee or Google Nest.
Several electric cooperatives also offer Bring Your Own Thermostat programs that allow members with an internet-connected ecobee or Google Nest thermostat to give their co-op the ability to adjust their thermostat during times of high traffic on the grid in return for compensation. These minor adjustments won’t compromise comfort, and the member can always override the adjustment if desired.
Similarly, electric cooperatives are exploring the use of digital water heater control devices that shift energy-intensive water heating away from peak times like the early morning hours, with no impact to the member. The insulated tank retains hot water, and if the water drops below a particular set point, the heating elements activate to ensure comfort.
Connect to Save, a new program that incorporates both smart thermostats and water heater controls, will soon be offered at four electric cooperatives: Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative, Jones-Onslow EMC, Lumbee River EMC and South River EMC. Through the program, participating cooperative members will be able to purchase a Google Nest or ecobee smart thermostat at a deeply discounted rate and will also receive an incentive for installing a WiFi-enabled controller on their electric water heater. Once these smart devices are in place, the local electric cooperative will have the ability to slightly adjust their settings during times of high power demand, keeping energy use and costs lower while maintaining comfortable in-home and hot water temperatures. The adjustment can always be overridden by the member if needed.
Consumer-member owned generation also plays an important role in managing demand on the electric grid. Members with existing back-up generation, like farms, industrial facilities and grocery stores, can work with their participating cooperative to integrate their backup generation systems with the grid. This allows the co-op to use the member’s generation as a resource during times of peak demand for power, and the member receives a monthly credit based on the load served by their generators.
Contact your electric cooperative for information about specific programs they offer.