Co-op uses drone for home energy audits

While regulators hammer out rules for utilities using aerial drones, some power providers have figured out how to put unmanned vehicles to use on the ground—or underground—for home energy inspections.

A recent article in Electric Coop, You are leaving the weekly newsletter of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, highlighted a custom-made drone being used in Indiana to inspect members’ crawl spaces.

Energy Advisor Steve Hite designed a home inspector that is immune to distractions like bugs, rodents and standing water.
Energy Advisor Steve Hite designed a home inspector that is immune to distractions like crawling creatures and water puddles. (Photo by Hendricks Power)

Home inspectors know that doing an energy audit can be hard on the back and knees and sometimes involve close, personal contact with spiders, rodents, snakes or standing water. A co-op energy adviser at Hendricks Power You are leaving  in Avon, Indiana, realized that robot technology might be able to eliminate the worst of the job.

Steve Hite developed a drone that carries a digital camera and transmits real-time video and still images to a laptop screen. Inspection Bots, You are leaving a Colorado-based vendor and customizer, built “Robbie” for the co-op in 2015, and it has been used in dozens of audits since then.

According to inspectors who have used Robbie, it is similar to operating a remote control car. The device enters the crawl space through the door and provides a thorough visual inspection while the energy advisor operates it from above. “The drone has two speeds and seems to move through crawlspace areas with ease,” said Hite.

Homeowners can watch the inspection and discuss the findings with the auditor as it occurs. Hite said he sometimes allows the member to take the controls, if they are interested (who wouldn’t be?). Hendricks Power has also loaned the drone to other co-ops in the area to use in their home inspections.

Using robotic technology for overhead power line inspection will have to wait for the future, but with a little innovative thinking, drones can be improving efficiency, safety and customer service today.

Could a drone like Robbie help your utility conduct inspections in tight underground spots? Contact WAPA’s Equipment Loan Manager and cast a vote to add it to the Equipment Loan Program.

Source: Electric Coop, 10/31/16

Around the Web: NRECA Unveils Interactive Website Tracking Cooperative Solar Development

AroundTheWebThe National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) has unveiled an interactive websiteRedirecting to a non-government site tracking solar development by electric cooperatives. Offering maps, data, photos and video, the website provides an overview and new details about the recent dramatic increase in cooperative-owned and purchased solar capacity.

Member-owned, not for profit co-ops either have online or are planning to develop 240 megawatts of owned and purchased solar capacity in 34 states. According to NRECA, this development is distinguished by its large footprint, rapid growth and potential for expansion.

“Co-op solar is consumer-owned solar,” said NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson. “The solar website shows how the consumer-owned utility business model can spur innovation and expand solar capacity in regions where this resource had previously been written off as too expensive or not viable.”

Highlights of the new website include maps showing the co-op solar footprint, solar projects developed abroad by NRECA International and median income levels and co-op solar development. Visitors will also find a chart showing the cumulative growth of co-op solar capacity, and videos, pictures and stories of significant co-op solar projects throughout the nation.

The website complements NRECA research, funded by the Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative, to develop tools and business strategies to accelerate the deployment of utility-scale solar.

Co-ops are making significant investments in renewable resource generation, using loans from the Rural Utilities Service and other sources. With solar becoming more cost-competitive, electric co-ops are poised to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in new projects. In addition, co-ops purchase renewable energy from large projects such as the 31 MW Cimarron Solar Facility in New Mexico and the 7.7 MW Azalea Solar Power Facility in Georgia.

Source: National Rural Electric Cooperative Association via Renewables Biz, 11/8/14

NRECA recognizes Western customer for helping Montana schools win national efficiency challenge

Western congratulates  Southeast Electric Cooperative Redirecting to a non-government site for earning the Community Service Award-Youth Division from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Redirecting to a non-government site (NRECA). Earlier this year, the Montana cooperative helped to coach a team of students from Carter County, Mont., to victory in America’s Home Energy Education Challenge Redirecting to a non-government site.

Karen Kreitel and Marlene Waterland of Southeast Electric Cooperative with NRECA CEO Glenn English and NRECA President Mike Guidry. (Photo by Southeast Electric Cooperative)

The national student competition encourages students and their families to start saving money by saving energy.  The judges, who are science teachers, evaluated entries based on the inclusion of multiple schools, student participation, energy savings and a final report.  At least 94 schools and 120,000 students participated nationwide.

In June, Energy Services Bulletin reported on the Carter County School District’s triumph in the competition. Southeast Member Services Representative Marlene Waterland worked with five schools in the co-op’s territory to help them with their energy saving plans. Educational displays she borrowed from Western’s Equipment Loan Program helped to demonstrate concepts about energy use to third- through eighth-graders. 

The Carter County team – Alzada Elementary School, Carter County High School, Ekalaka Elementary School (K-8th grade), Hammond School (K-8th grade) and Hawks Home School – won the national competition by successfully reducing their home energy use by 3.4 percent. Montana Electric Cooperatives Inc.  Redirecting to a non-government site submitted that program to NRECA for national consideration.

Waterland accepted the award at the 12th annual TechAdvantage Expo Feb. 20. NRECA CEO Glenn English praised the small rural utility, noting, “Southeast Electric Cooperative has shown what it means to be a cooperative by engaging with the community – from age 5 on up – and finding new ways to improve the quality of life for their consumer members.”

DOE awards NRECA Cooperative Research Network funding for solar project

The Cooperative Research Network Redirecting to a non-government site (CRN), the research arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), is receiving $2.1 million of a $9 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) to the North Carolina State University FREEDM Systems Center Redirecting to a non-government site to develop a “plug and play” photovoltaic (PV) system.

CRN’s role in the project will be to coordinate demonstrations with at least two cooperatives to evaluate the PV systems and test the utility interconnection. In addition to assisting in the design of the project, CRN will also ensure the standards comply with the MultiSpeak specification, the de facto common interface model electric utilities use worldwide.

NRECA Research, Engineering & Technical Services Vice President John Hewa said, “CRN will be focusing on the integration of residential level solar resources on reliability and developing a system that works for both the consumer and the utility, simplifying the installation process without compromising safety or electric reliability.”

More than a dozen cooperatives across the country are developing community solar farms to meet the growing demand from consumer members for solar energy systems. This project will enable cooperatives to offer members more simple, safe and reliable options to add their own renewable energy generators.

The grant is part of DOE’s SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other sources of energy by 2020.

The Cooperative Research Network conducts original, collaborative research for the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives.

APPA, NRECA applaud DOE move on water heaters

Electric utility groups are applauding the Energy Department’s (DOE) decision to reconsider a rule it issued last year that would limit the size of residential water heaters manufactured after April 2015.

In April 2010, the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency issued a final rule on energy conservation standards for residential water heaters. Electric utility groups feared the rule would interfere with demand-response programs in which consumers allow their utilities to control their water heater’s cycling based on grid conditions.

On June 6, DOE issued a request for information seeking comments on how the rule would affect utility programs that use high-storage-volume (above 55 gallons) electric storage water heaters to reduce peak electricity demand.

The American Public Power Association (APPA) Redirecting to a non-government site, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Redirecting to a non-government site, PJM Interconnection Redirecting to a non-government site and the Steffes Corp. Redirecting to a non-government site issued a statement June 12 applauding the DOE’s move to request more information on this issue.

“APPA is pleased that the Department of Energy has taken this important first step toward relieving the 2010 constraints imposed on electric water heaters in utility demand-response programs,” said President and CEO Mark Crisson. “Large-volume electric water heaters provide an environmentally friendly and cost effective means for utilities to improve overall system efficiency.”

NRECA CEO Glenn English concurred, noting that electric co-ops have relied on the energy storage capacity of residential water heaters to help manage demand on their distribution systems.

DOE will accept comments through July 13. Information on submitting comments can be found in the RFI. APPA encourages its members that have water heater programs to submit information. Read more.

Nominate the 2010 Wind Power Co-op of the Year

Deadline for nominations: Dec. 31, 2010

It is time to honor one electric cooperative for its leadership in wind power. All electric cooperatives that are members of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) are eligible to apply to be the 2010 Wind Cooperative of the Year.

Cooperatives can nominate themselves or other systems, and there is no cost to enter. The Wind Cooperative of the Year Award is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Powering America initiative in partnership with the NRECA.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the award. Past winners are Kodiak Electric Association, Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative, Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, Associated Electric Cooperative, Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, Holy Cross Energy, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, and Great River Energy. The 2010 winner will be recognized at the NRECA TechAdvantage Conference in Orlando, Fla., on March 8 to 11, 2011. Please submit nominations (page two of form) to:

Randy Manion
Western Area Power Administration
P.O. Box 281213
Lakewood, CO 80228-8213

by close of business on Dec. 31, 2010.