Electric Cooperatives: Driven By Service, Inspired by Innovation

October is National Cooperative Month, a time that we recognize the many benefits the cooperative business model brings to co-op members and communities. One of the most important ways electric cooperatives in North Carolina are continuing to serve members and communities across the state is through the implementation of innovative technology.

The Ocracoke Island microgrid is an innovative project that integrates new technologies and renewables to generate its own power.

Our electric grid is changing rapidly, as are the needs and expectations of consumers. North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are committed to staying on the forefront of this evolution, and are pursuing a number of forward-thinking initiatives that are making the most of new technologies and resources.

  • Smart Thermostat and Water Heater Controls. Wifi technology is enabling cooperatives to use smart thermostat and water heater controls to manage demand for power during times of high energy use. Members who participate in these programs allow their co-op to remotely adjust the temperature of their thermostat or water heater by just a few degrees during peak events to help balance load on the system. These controls can always be overridden, though in most cases you won’t even notice a difference.

  • Electric Vehicles. Co-ops across North Carolina are building a statewide network of electric vehicle charging stations to promote environmental sustainability, economic development and tourism in co-op communities. There are currently 30 co-op charging stations located at 23 sites throughout North Carolina. A number of co-ops also offer special rates to members who own electric vehicles and choose to charge them during off-peak hours.

  • Community Solar. 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 co-ops have installed 18 community solar farms totaling 2 megawatts on sites well suited for generating solar power.

  • Microgrids. The state’s electric cooperatives currently have two microgrids projects, one located on Ocracoke Island developed in partnership with Tideland EMC, and another located on a pork production farm in Harnett County developed in partnership with South River EMC. These microgrids integrate multiple technologies, like smart thermostats, water heater controls, renewable energy and battery storage, to create a small electric grid that is capable of supplementing the main electric grid as well as generating its own power. Through these projects, all 26 electric cooperatives are learning how these technologies work together and how they can be used in the future.

The Butler Farms microgrid, created in partnership with South River EMC and Butler Quality Pork and Renewable Energy Farm, integrates batteries and a controller (shown here) with solar energy, biogas and diesel generation, and demonstrates how utilities and agriculture – two of the state’s largest industries – can work together.

For more information about these and other innovative initiatives that are inspiring co-ops and our members, visit the Energy & Innovation section of our website.

Thank you for joining us in celebrating what makes cooperatives different. We are proud to serve you this month, and every month.