4 Reasons Outage Communications Are Vital for Electric Co-op Members
December 1, 2022
Electric co-ops face unique challenges. Most of their members live in rural places, which are more vulnerable to power outages. The population is dispersed over much greater areas than urban centers, making it more time-consuming for crews to restore power. The result is that co-op members tend to deal with longer, more frequent power outages. This isn’t likely to change either. Keeping the power on will be harder as severe weather increases, emphasizing the importance of providing co-op members with reliable outage communications.
Co-op Customers Represent 12% of the U.S. Population
Electric co-ops power 56% of the geographic area of the United States, bringing electricity to 42 million people or 12% of the population. Co-op members make up 21 million businesses, homes, schools, and farms across 48 states, and 92% live in persistent poverty counties. Despite being a proportionately small, rural population spread across a vast territory, these members are no less in need of information on outages than urban dwellers. In fact, an argument can be made that they need it more.
Co-op Members Experience Longer Outages
SECO reported during a KUBRA webinar that co-op customers spend more time (on average) without power during major outages. Power outages last approximately two hours for the average utility customer, but for co-op customers, it’s four. There are several reasons for this. More populated, urban areas and critical infrastructure are restored first. Rural areas are also more susceptible to outages as they rely on electricity from overhead power lines that come down more easily in high winds. And it takes longer to restore power because the population is scattered over large areas. Co-op utilities can’t control the weather, but they can improve customer experience and manage expectations during outages by providing members with restoration updates.
Co-op Members' Energy Needs Will Increase Exponentially in the Coming Years
When you think about rural areas, diesel-powered pickup trucks probably spring to mind, but cost-savings are driving interest in electric vehicles in these financially insecure communities. As more people opt to plug in their cars instead of hitting the gas station, electricity demand rises, as does reliance. Extended outages can impact a member’s ability to get to work, school, or attend appointments if they can’t charge their car.
Rural communities also increased internet usage during the pandemic as more businesses moved online. These areas have long complained that slow, unreliable, or unavailable internet access restricts their economic growth. A positive outcome of the pandemic was a new urgency to address those concerns. President Biden’s US$65 billion Broadband Plan will expand broadband coverage in rural parts of the country. As their reliance on electricity deepens, so does the need for co-op utilities to invest in outage communications to keep members in the know during significant power outages.
Co-op Members Are Concerned About Power Reliability
The Cooperative Insights National Survey on the Cooperative Difference found that roughly 55% of co-op members value power reliability over other criteria, like price. Power reliability concerns everyone to some degree. But, when the power goes out in rural areas, it doesn’t just mean the lights. Water can also be impacted because residents often rely on wells for water – wells using electric pumps. When there’s a power outage, the water supply is also cut. These unique circumstances stress how critical power reliability is to rural residents.
It’s little surprise that power quality and reliability are major components of J.D. Power’s Residential Customer Satisfaction Study. Our research found that a significant 27% of a utility’s J.D. Power score is based on power quality and reliability. Utilities can boost their ranking by communicating power reliability through an outage map like KUBRA Storm Center™. It can display data like the frequency of outages and how quickly power is restored.
Shed Some Light on Outages
Cooperative utility members experience power outages more often, for longer periods, and have greater difficulty accessing support in emergencies due to poor road conditions during extreme weather. When you add it all up, it’s clear that this group deserves access to reliable outage information, such as expected restoration times, planned outages, and the cause of outages.
KUBRA works with cooperative utilities like Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC), Cobb EMC, SMECO, and SECO to help keep their customers informed during outages.
Click here to learn more about how Storm Center kept REC’s customers informed during a major snowstorm.
Get in touch with us to learn more about how KUBRA’s utility maps support cooperative utilities during major outages.