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Enhancing Rural Electric Infrastructure for an Efficient Smart Grid

Enhancing Rural Electric Infrastructure for an Efficient Smart Grid, Travis Turner

Across the United States, cooperatives and municipalities need to provide reliable power to keep communities thriving. For them — as with investor-owned providers — a key component to successfully delivering reliable power is making electric improvements before aging infrastructure or other service challenges lead to widespread outages.

While the demand remains for resilient and reliable power from both businesses and homes, municipalities and cooperatives are encountering the challenge of limited budgets to make the improvements needed to modernize their communities’ electric grids. Additionally, cooperatives are continually striving to deliver grids capable of providing the required power needed for local communities while keeping costs affordable for consumers.

Alternative Energy Solutions

With energy sources like wind, solar and hydroelectric growing in prominence, it is imperative to have an electric grid that can accommodate these new distributed energy resources. To combat the challenges, communities can leverage federal funding opportunities to modernize their electric grid.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $1.6 billion in federal funding to build and improve electric infrastructure for rural cooperatives across many states. Utilizing these funding opportunities, cooperatives can identify cost-effective plans to deliver a modernized and reliable grid geared toward the future and alternative energy solutions.

Improving Efficiencies

Creating a smarter and more resilient grid should be high on the priority list for cooperatives to both reduce costs and improve customers reliability. A more efficient grid can help utilities isolate outages for improved services to communities. Cooperatives and municipalities will first need to identify what assets need to be replaced, upgraded, or modified in a comprehensive plan to achieve grid modernization.

Additionally, the implementation of a system for supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) would provide staff the ability to manage outages from a remote location rather than mobilizing staff to physically examine sites. Utilizing a SCADA system reduces both the time and costs associated with restoring power, as outages can be addressed from behind a computer screen. This would be especially helpful for cooperatives in a region where terrain makes it difficult or impossible to navigate.

By identifying the right solutions and determining how to manage and prioritize projects, cooperatives and municipalities can do all that is necessary to bring systems up to date — and without risking affordable rates for community members.

 

Making an electric grid smarter and more reliable will be critical to the economic success of our communities. Grid modernization may be the solution to cooperatives and municipalities facing aging infrastructure challenges.

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Travis Turner
Written by Travis Turner
Travis Turner, PE, is a business development manager at Burns & McDonnell. He focuses on delivering innovative and cost-effective solutions for electric cooperatives, municipalities and utilities.

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