A day in the life of Load Forecast Analysts

The new year is an opportunity to look ahead, but for Basin Electric’s long-term load forecast team, they take a much farther look.

Robert Frank, load forecast analyst, and Jay Lundstrom, lead load forecast analyst, are responsible for the load forecasting for Basin Electric’s membership. The load forecast is the main tool used for power supply planning, financial forecasting, rate planning, and transmission planning. The forecasting is done on an annual basis but gives a long-term view of 30 years ahead so members know the anticipated energy needs and requirements for planning purposes.

“The advantage to looking further down the road is that you can make slight adjustments. You can’t do that when you’re staring at the side of the road. It’s easier to steer the ship looking out that far,” says Lundstrom.

Jay Lundstrom
Jay Lundstrom, lead load forecast analyst.

What used to take four people two years to produce now takes Frank and Lundstrom eight to ten months, thanks to updated technology and developed efficiencies. Their approach has greatly increased accuracy, and working as a team ensures that each co-op is given the attention it deserves. The work is divided up evenly between Frank and Lundstrom, although just glancing, it may not appear that way.

“Robert does the forecast process for about 90% of the members, and I take care of the other 10%,” says Lundstrom. “But 90% of my job is focused on taking care of that 10% of the co-ops.”

“Things move a little faster in some co-ops than others because some are more impacted by certain industries. Jay works with members who need more of an industry look,” says Frank. “The same amount of effort goes into each forecast, but some need more finesse.”

A large portion of load forecasting involves data collection. Frank has a background in statistics and Lundstrom in mathematics, so both enjoy “detective work” and deciphering information.

“Statistics can be used incorrectly, and often times they are,” says Frank. “Sometimes the information we find is just a snapshot of the story, and we need way more context. So Jay and I pull back and look for more data points to determine how things actually might play out.”

Robert Frank
Robert Frank, load forecast analyst.

The pair references historical data from the members dating back to 1971 and utilizes many different resources to gather the most recent and relevant data available.

“We are constantly reading about what’s coming down the pipe to see what could potentially impact the co-ops. We’re always trying to answer, ‘What will happen in 10 years?’” says Lundstrom. “We joke that we’re the ‘crystal ball’ experts. We’re always trying to predict what next thing is coming.”

The team monitors changes in a variety of industries, including agriculture, ethanol, oil and gas, coal, housing, and more.

“We have a broad knowledge in a lot of areas. It’s like a great lake that’s only eight feet deep. We have enough knowledge to make a quick assessment,” says Lundstrom.

This year’s forecast also takes into account new loads that are appearing quickly, such as crypto mining and economic development in western North Dakota, for example. An external forecaster was brought in to look at the load as it relates to the Bakken oil field and how the forecast for that field relates to others in the United States.
“We wanted to compare where we think the loads are going to what the industry thinks,” says Lundstrom.

“It turns out that for the most part we are fairly consistent with industry’s thoughts.”

Although Frank and Lundstrom do extensive research, they also rely on information from the member co-ops to have an accurate forecast.

“It’s not just us sitting in the office doing these models. We work closely with member managers to learn what they’re seeing in their areas, so they’re very much a part of the process. They see the day-to-day and add additional information we couldn’t obtain on our own which helps us forecast better, and then we provide a broader perspective. It’s the best of both worlds,” says Frank.

“Our members’ crystal balls are very clear for about two to three years. They know what’s coming in the near future, and beyond that, we let the models that are in place take over,” says Lundstrom.

When composing the load forecast, Frank and Lundstrom approach it with a realistic perspective.

“One member might tend to look at things optimistically and another more pessimistically. We aim to be somewhere in the middle,” says Frank. “It helps avoid any sudden turns and ensures all of our assessments are consistent and streamlined.”

Once they have compiled the load forecast, they share it with the Class C managers who provide input. The document is then revised and sent to the Class A managers, and after receiving everyone’s approval, it finally goes to Basin Electric’s board of directors for approval.

“Everything we do is in concert with the members. We work hand-in-hand with them to make sure we’re all in the same boat and moving in the same direction,” says Frank. “The job we do is for them, and without them, we don’t exist.”

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