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Differential evolution (DE) is a powerful population-based algorithm of evolutionary computation field designed for solving global optimization problems. The potentialities of DE are its simple structure, easy use, convergence speed and robustness. However, the control parameters and learning strategies involved in DE are highly dependent on the problems under consideration. Choosing suitable parameter values requires also previous experience of the user. Despite its crucial importance, there is no consistent methodology for determining the control parameters of a DE. In this paper, different DE approaches combined with a cultural algorithm technique based on normative and situational knowledge are proposed as alternative methods to solving the economic load dispatch problem of thermal generators with valve-point effect. The DE approaches are validated for a test system consisting of 13 thermal generators whose nonsmooth fuel cost function takes into account the valve-point loading effects. Numerical results indicate that performance of the cultural DE present best results when compared with previous optimization approaches in solving load dispatch problems with the valve-point effect.