December 13, 2022

The Top 5 Rural Electrification Challenges


5 Min. Read

Rural electrification is a more complex challenge than the electrification of urban and suburban areas, however, it will have a major impact, and addressing it is becoming a greater necessity, as one in six Americans currently lives in rural areas. An adequate rural power supply is a must for electric vehicle (EV) charging, efficient HVAC systems, and all-electric appliances, and it’s important to examine the electric resiliency of these rural areas.

The importance of this issue is heightened as agricultural automation is on the rise – additionally elevating demands on a reliable rural electric supply. As countryside homes and businesses look to reduce energy costs and maximize their electrification, the potential strain on the power supply to these areas increases.

Major roadblocks during weather crises have consequentially slowed down rural electrical usage by limiting the ability to quickly repair or replace damaged infrastructure. Fixing downed infrastructure in rural areas with limited routes can be expensive for homeowners, business owners, farmers, and electric co-ops, so it’s important to find solutions than make electrifying rural America an accessible reality. Read on to learn more about the top five challenges, and respective solutions, faced in rural electrification.

The Top 5 rural electrification challenges

Older distribution systems

Older and less reliable rural distribution systems may be the biggest challenge. When these systems were originally built, most only needed to power electric lighting and a few appliances per household, and as such, they were designed for a more limited capacity.

A major push to boost rural electric service began in 1937, with the goal to bring electricity to farmers for the first time. Urban utilities had consistently refused to provide service to these areas, citing high costs and low return on investment. Having energy resilience in these rural areas is significant, as repair times during outages and weather crises can take longer due to limited access, road closures, and other location-dependent concerns. Being without power for extended periods can have a significant financial impact on the small businesses that now rely on it to power their enterprises.

Rural electric cooperatives were created to provide electricity to rural customers. Serving more than 42 million customers, these non-profit co-ops have historically lacked the funds needed to upgrade for widespread home electrification, EV charging stations, and heat pumps.

More government funding will spur investment in rural electricity usage and overall infrastructure, including IRA Section 22001-22005 loans and the USDA’s Electric Infrastructure Loan & Loan Guarantee Program.

High rural energy prices and unreliable supplies

Electricity in rural areas can be costly, as typically, having only one provider available in the area drives up prices due to a lack of competition. Transmission costs increase over longer distances, also increasing the potential costs for providers and consumers. Upgraded infrastructure should reduce prices by reducing the cost of distribution and creating an opportunity for competitive pricing.

An unreliable supply caused by the old local grid can discourage rural residents and businesses from moving towards electricity as a viable power source, however, improved distribution and the increased usage of battery storage and microgrids will provide greater assurance and assistance to those in rural areas.

Inadequate clean energy usage

Rural energy production has long depended on fossil fuels for power generation. As costs have come down for solar and wind generation, more rural power comes from renewable energy sources, and more and more co-ops are including renewables in their energy mix.

Coal, oil, and gas are not always cheaper, further driving co-ops that are willing to move to cleaner fuels. This, coupled with government assistance, can help aid suppliers as they increase their reliance on climate-friendly alternatives.

The Energy Improvement in Rural or Remote Areas Program is a prime example of upgrading systems while promoting clean energy. Distributed Generation Energy Project Financing is another possible solution.

Poor EV charging infrastructure and extended driving distances

Range anxiety is natural for some EV drivers, even more so for rural drivers trekking longer distances than urban drivers. Some drivers are worried about running low on power due to a greater limitation on charging options. This hesitancy has hurt rural EV adoption by limiting support of infrastructure for the growing electrification movement.

While longer EV ranges will help, other solutions are needed. These include installing EV charging stations on highways and developing microgrid communities in rural areas to create grid resiliency.

At-home EV charging stations hold the most promise for rural EV drivers and the added convenience of charging at home overnight should make a real difference in EV adoption rates. Government incentives can help cover the cost of chargers and installation for homeowners and business owners.

High upfront costs for electrification projects

Home electrification projects often require a high upfront cost, creating a potential barrier for lower- to middle-income homeowners and businesses. Managing initial costs can have a monumental impact, as savings can pile up quickly after installation thanks to the many rebates and incentives available.

Many homeowners and small business owners qualify for these incentives to ease the burden and get their projects completed. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers a range of programs to assist. The High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Act (HEEHRA), an underpublicized part of the IRA, offers rebates that can cover the entire cost of projects such as a home heat pump.

IRA incentives can help

Rural homeowners and business owners can lower their energy costs and promote rural electrification at the same time with IRA incentives for homes and businesses. Incentives come in various forms including tax deductions, energy credits, point-of-sale rebates, and more. Eligibility varies between homeowners and businesses, so it’s important to note that farmers earning income from their land qualify as small businesses and all others as homeowners.

Qmerit supports rural electrification

Government incentives through the Inflation Reduction Act and other legislation make electrification more affordable for consumers, business owners, and electric co-ops. There’s never been a better time to increase your energy efficiency and lower your energy bills. Qmerit can help you take advantage of these IRA incentives through our network of licensed professionals throughout North America and by utilizing our established relationships with automakers, parts manufacturers and distributors, utility programs, and other strategic partnerships.

Qmerit is the trusted company to assist you in finding a certified electrician in your area who will assess your needs and work with you to find the perfect solution. To learn more, contact us today.

Author: Greg Sowder

Greg Sowder

President, Qmerit Network