President Joe Biden’s energy policies call for a massive expansion of electricity to replace fuel sources like heating oil and natural gas for homes, and gasoline for cars. Setting aside the politics, the proposal will have a major impact on America’s electrical grid. With recent grid failures in Texas and brownouts in California, consumers wonder if Pennsylvania is ready?
Delaware Valley Journal asked one of the country’s largest grid operators, PJM Interconnection, to answer a few basic questions about what lies ahead.
Q: What is PJM? What does it do?
A: PJM Interconnection is the regional transmission organization (RTO) that dispatches and plans for the reliable delivery of wholesale electricity to consumers in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. In all, PJM manages grid operations for 65 million people to maintain the reliable flow of electricity at the most reasonable cost seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
PJM’s purpose is to keep the lights on. PJM is sometimes called the air traffic controller of the grid because we manage the electricity of utilities, but we don’t own the equipment we direct. And, PJM is policy and technology-neutral. Rather, we dispatch the available power, whether it is generated from coal, natural gas, solar, hydro, wind, and more, according to the most efficient cost and most reliable delivery wherever it is needed across an 84,000-mile network of high-voltage transmission lines. If a power line is out of service in one place, PJM dispatches power to flow over other lines to maintain reliable service for consumers. When there is congestion on the PJM network, PJM will also dispatch power via other routes to serve the need. PJM is the largest grid operator in North America, and its generation fleet includes generation resources of all types.
As states craft their own energy directions for future needs, PJM remains independent and policy-neutral as we fulfill our obligation to conduct long-term regional planning to identify the most effective and cost-efficient improvements to the grid to ensure reliability and economic benefits systemwide. Coordinating the reliable dispatch of power; operating efficient, competitive markets; and planning for the future makes electric outages less likely to happen and reduces wholesale power costs overall. PJM’s vision is to be the electric industry leader – today and tomorrow – in reliable operations, efficient wholesale markets, and infrastructure development.
Q: The future of electricity and power generation is a big issue on the minds of Americans, especially politicians and utility companies. How do you see the grid evolving into the future?
A: The operations and planning required for our constantly evolving grid require multifaceted, thoughtful collaboration by generation, transmission, and distribution companies, consumers, and state and federal partners. PJM operates a strong, robust grid, which balances the attributes and characteristics of varied generation types in real-time in response to emergencies, weather outages, and typical usage patterns, including peak winter and summer power needs.
At the same time, our nation is going through an energy transformation driven by policymakers, consumers, industry, and rapid advances in technology. Many PJM states prioritize green or renewable energy. On the consumer side, electric vehicles, battery storage, and rooftop storage are growing in popularity.
These trends are clearly reflected among the ranks of power generators who have applied to connect to the PJM grid to supply power in the future. More than 90 percent of these power types are solar, wind, batteries, or a combination of renewable resources.
It is clear we are headed toward a rapidly evolving grid. It is PJM’s job to ensure that electric service reliability remains the No. 1 priority during an energy transformation clearly driven by consumers, businesses, states, and policymakers. PJM’s role is not to promote or advocate for specific energy technologies. Rather, we are working with our more than 1,000 members and stakeholders to prepare our operations, planning, and markets to maintain the reliable delivery of electricity at the most reasonable cost, around the clock, wherever it is needed.
Q: How is PJM adapting for this “grid of the future,” both in terms of consumer demand and public policy priorities?
A: The broad demand trend for wholesale electricity, also known as “load,” has remained largely flat in recent history. In the coming decades, PJM anticipates that demand for electricity will expand in response to evolving consumer, business, and policy preferences, including interest in renewable resources, electric vehicles, and more.
As demand evolves, maintaining the reliable flow of electricity requires that generation resource attributes are rewarded in our energy markets in such a way that they keep the power flowing. A diverse mix of generation, each with unique supply and response capacities, is dispatched by PJM to balance and maintain the flow of power in response to these growing electrification, seasonal needs, and weather events. Today, flexible natural gas generation is the primary resource within PJM’s footprint, followed by nuclear power, coal, and renewable resources.
For the future needs of our bulk electric system, PJM’s long-term planning identifies what changes and additions to the grid may be required to ensure the uninterrupted reliable flow of power. All interested parties, including state officials, utility regulators, the utilities, and transmissions owners, play an active role in planning for these future electricity supply and reliability needs. As the independent, neutral operator of the grid, PJM helps facilitate the decarbonization of the grid, preparing for the grid of the future and fostering innovation – all amid a backdrop of continuous industry change.
Q: How will the current electricity transmission system be able to accommodate decarbonization efforts and the grid of the future?
A: For our nation’s transmission system, one-third of the infrastructure is more than 50 years old. Two-thirds is more than 40 years old. That said, technology is playing a big role now and in the future to get more capacity out of our current high-voltage network. In addition, our grid is becoming more decentralized, with more power coming from rooftop solar installations, demand response, and battery storage facilities.
The grid of the future will accommodate the growing trend of decarbonization driven by our member states, government policy, and increasing consumer and business preferences. PJM serves to provide guidance on where to build the right amount of transmission in the right areas, and transparently partners with our members and stakeholders to explore technology solutions to maximize grid efficiency.
Q: How is PJM involved with setting energy policy in states and federally?
A: PJM does not develop or propose energy policy. We implement the policies that are provided to us by our member states, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and other governing and regulatory bodies.