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An Intelligent Approach

Potential future uses of AI in the co-op world

July 2024

Looking ahead, co-ops see great potential for AI and AR as helpful tools for improving grid reliability and the services they provide to consumer-members. (Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

by Scott Flood, Contributing Columnist

Unless you’ve just awakened from an incredibly long nap, you’ve probably been hearing plenty about artificial intelligence. Much of what you’ve heard is likely either exciting or terrifying. Movies and TV offer up paradises in which technology frees us from daily struggles — and frightening scenarios in which machines become our overlords.

Electric cooperatives are not just exploring the possibilities of AI; they are already harnessing its potential to address underlying needs. This strategic approach is not about the technology itself, but about finding better ways to accomplish tasks and obtain desired results. The use of AI tools can lead to more efficient processes and approaches, ultimately benefiting the electric cooperative industry.

Contrary to the hype, AI in the electric cooperative industry is not about creating a futuristic world, but about making incremental improvements to existing products and services. For instance, the next generation of smart meters might incorporate AI tools that help homeowners better manage their energy use. AI-based systems may also be used to improve the nation’s power grid management, spotting potential problems before human operators can. These practical applications of AI are what the electric co-ops are likely to experience in the foreseeable future.

Another set of promising technologies being explored in the electric cooperative industry are augmented reality and virtual reality. These immersive technologies are not just buzzwords, but tools already being tested, particularly in educational and training opportunities.

For example, apprentice lineworkers can become comfortable manipulating AR and VR versions of equipment before working with the real thing, enhancing their learning experience and safety.

AR blends VR with the world around us. One day soon, a lineworker may lookup at a failed transformer atop a power pole. Their safety glasses will instantly recognize the type of transformer, its exact location, and when it was installed before displaying a checklist of the equipment the lineworker may need, a guide to diagnosing common problems, and even 24-hour access to technical experts.

Ultimately, adopting AI, VR, AR and other promising technologies share one goal for electric co-ops. From solving outages more quickly to allowing greater control over energy use to lowering the cost of service, tomorrow’s innovative technologies will continue to help co-ops enhance the services they provide to their local communities.

Scott Flood writes for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.