Modern demand response system demonstrates potential for statewide expansion

Co-ops renovate aging infrastructure, invest in modern grid

A partnership of two Minnesota electric cooperatives has resulted in the ability to send signals across hundreds of miles to perform activities critical for providing dependable and affordable electricity.

The system, known as a demand response management system (DRMS), allows cooperatives to alleviate demand on the electric system when the grid is either stressed (increasing the chance of a power outage) or costly (when high demand drives up the price of electricity).

Lake Region Electric Cooperative (LREC), based in Pelican Rapids, Minn., has long initiated these money-saving programs manually from its home office, with the notification message coming from its wholesale power provider, Great River Energy, located 180 miles away in Maple Grove, Minn.

MapNow, when Great River Energy sends the signal to LREC, electric devices automatically change operations or switch off entirely. Consumers are offered incentives for making their devices controllable.

“This allows Lake Region to focus our time and attention on what matters on a given day without the need to have our finger on the button,” said Tim Hart, electronic systems supervisor for LREC. “Periods of high demand stress the grid and drive up prices. The ability to relieve pressure through this system is critical.”

This capability is so valuable that cooperatives figured out a way to do it nearly three decades ago using radio-frequency signals. That system is still working today, though Great River Energy has announced plans to phase it out  in 2026. The LREC system proves that demand response is possible using modern telecommunications networks, a first for Minnesota’s cooperatives.

“This proves that there is a future for demand response at Great River Energy,” said John Reinhart, Great River Energy’s demand response and technologies lead. “The network we use has the potential to be leveraged in other ways, too. This is an example of the modern electric grid creating value.”

The LREC example is particularly promising because it shows that Great River Energy’s DRMS can initiate demand response through load management systems of different manufacturers.

“Great River Energy’s member-owner cooperatives use a variety of vendors for advanced metering infrastructure and load management. Ensuring multiple technologies can work with the new system is critical,” Reinhart added.

A modern DRMS is a part of Great River Energy’s grid modernization initiative. Great River Energy and its member-owner cooperatives are seeking innovative solutions and leading the pursuit of technologies and resources to better use the grid and serve members in new ways. Together, cooperatives are seeking to transform the energy system to be more resilient, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible.