Published on April 9, 2024, 6:22 am

A leading Midwestern utility cooperative, Dairyland Power Cooperative, has taken an unexpected lead in the realm of generative AI under the direction of CIO Nate Melby. Through innovative implementations of emerging technologies, Dairyland has harnessed large language models (LLMs) to automate document summarization and optimize power grid management during storms.

Nate Melby, previously overseeing cybersecurity at Ingersoll-Rand, brought his extensive experience in developing neural networks and machine learning models to Dairyland in 2016. Tasked with supervising 24 power grids across Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota, Melby swiftly integrated machine learning models into production at Dairyland. This initiative significantly enhanced the cooperative’s weather forecasting capabilities and streamlined load management applications to effectively handle peak power loads.

In collaboration with Microsoft systems integrator Stoneridge Software, Dairyland delved into utilizing Microsoft Azure-based LLMs early on. Despite being formed during the New Deal era in the 1930s, Dairyland’s proactive approach coupled with Melby’s technological acumen allowed them to adopt cutting-edge AI solutions well ahead of their counterparts.

Dairyland’s transition towards digital transformation was catalyzed by its participation in Microsoft’s FastTrack program, which facilitated a shift towards Dynamics 365 ERP and the Azure cloud. Leveraging his background in cybersecurity and data privacy imperatives within AI applications, Melby earned Microsoft’s trust and took Dairyland on a journey towards pioneering AI initiatives within the organization.

The strategic partnership between Melby and Stoneridge Software led to a seamless migration of custom legacy applications to a commercial implementation of Dynamics 365 and an Azure data lake for Dairyland. This strategic move laid the groundwork for leveraging AI technologies within the power company.

Melby’s swift adoption of AI technologies stemmed from Dairyland’s commitment to providing safe and reliable electricity at optimal rates to its members. By harnessing machine learning models and generative AI tools efficiently, he aimed to drive business efficiencies while serving the cooperative’s primary mission.

Dairyland adopted Azure LLMs such as GPT-3 and GPT-4.5 initially for generalist purposes before aligning them with specific workflows. The team witnessed a significant reduction in development time—from two weeks to mere minutes—once they integrated generative AI into their operations.

Vladimir Tsoy highlighted Nate Melby’s progressive approach as a game-changer for Dairyland Power Cooperative by spearheading innovative tech initiatives within the utility sector notoriously slow in adopting emerging technologies. Moving forward, Melby envisions AI playing a pivotal role in addressing industry challenges related to reliability enhancement in generation assets, efficiency improvement in transmission systems, sustainability through managing energy transitions amidst increasing renewable energy integration onto grids, and enhancing safety measures across operational aspects through diligent implementation of AI strategies tailored for problem-solving approaches.

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