At the Forefront of Energy Innovation

For the last 14 years, CREA has produced the Energy Innovations Summit, an annual conference that we host in the Denver area for those interested in the business of electricity and how it’s generated and consumed. At the Summit, we bring speakers from across the country together to present and talk about current industry developments. Given the dynamic nature of the industry, we want to make sure our members — Colorado’s electric co-ops — have the information they need to successfully serve the consumer-members at their individual co-op.

At this year’s Summit, which was attended by more than 250 people who are interested in the energy industry, experts addressed topics including hydrogen, nuclear fusion, advanced geothermal energy, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. All these technologies may impact the way that electricity is delivered by Colorado’s electric co-ops in the coming years.

Our focus on innovation at the Summit is just another reflection of our membership:
Colorado’s electric co-ops are hard at work innovating and providing unique solutions to the energy needs of their consumer-members.

There are many examples of innovation at work in the electric co-op community. At the power supply level, all the companies that generate bulk power for electric co-ops are revamping their generation portfolios to rely more on renewable resources (such as wind and solar) and less on fossil fuel-fired plants. That said, it’s likely that a significant portion of the power supply picture in Colorado will depend on natural gas-fired plants for some years to come. While battery technology is improving, long-duration batteries that can provide backup power for days at a time are still in the experimental stages.

On the distribution side of the industry, local electric co-ops are quickly integrating many new technologies and innovations that will ensure they can provide affordable, reliable, and resilient electric service. Whether it’s deploying heat pumps, supporting energy-efficiency upgrades, developing microgrids, or installing EV charging stations, electric co-ops are always looking for ways to deploy technology that will improve the quality of life for the Coloradans they serve.

Given the devastation caused by recent wildfires in co-op service territories (none of which were caused by co-op power lines), co-ops are also using new tools to mitigate the risks posed by wildfires. These tools include more fire-resistant poles and wires and the use of cameras and drones to monitor and inspect co-op facilities. Co-ops understand the need for their communities to have access to affordable, reliable, and resilient electricity, and they do everything in their power to make that happen.

The Energy Innovations Summit is not only a great learning forum for our cooperatives, it’s also a great opportunity for members of our electric co-op family to meet and talk to people from other organizations who have diverse perspectives. It’s important for all stakeholders in the energy space to understand the priorities and needs of others to shape energy policy that works for everyone.

While the focus of the Energy Innovations Summit is on the future and how electricity will be generated and distributed five, 10, and 20 years into the future, Colorado’s electric co-ops must be focused on how to deliver reliable and affordable power today. Co-ops provide a critical service across Colorado and are, in a very literal sense, the lifeblood of the communities they serve. While there are many new proposed technologies and business models in the electric industry, co-ops must make sure that whatever they do, they keep the lights on for their members at a price they can afford.

Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for 21 Colorado electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.