On May 11, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt picked up a pen and signed Executive Order No. 7037. The result was a game-changer. At the time, only one of every 10 rural homes had electricity. The legally binding Presidential order, however, created the Rural Electrification Administration and launched the creation of an electric infrastructure. By 1953, the statistics were reversed: Only one of every 10 rural homes was without electricity.
Now, the game has new rules. In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Information and Security Act to create a smarter electrical grid. This new smart grid will be engineered to automate and streamline power distribution and outfox potential security threats, all while working more cooperatively with its neighbors. The latter is especially important for a grid that’s been built in a piecemeal fashion to span a growing nation, yet still needs to distribute no-fail power efficiently to an increasing number of customers.
The monumental task of updating an outdated grid has fallen to the 930 electrical cooperatives that distribute power throughout the U.S. It’s a bit like asking your IT person to rebuild a room-sized 1944 Harvard Mark-1 calculator to function like an iPad. The good news is that dozens of cooperatives have picked up the gauntlet. Beginning in the next section, we’ll take a closer look at five cooperatives that are exploring ways to prevent outages, protect supplies and improve efficiencies.