General Session Looks at Future of System Planning

What are the different ways grid operators might approach the challenges of planning the future electric transmission system? What will be required for future planning efforts to ensure the necessary infrastructure will be available at efficient costs to meet short and longer term needs?

Those were among the questions examined at the PJM General Session on the Evolution of System Planning Dec. 6.

In his opening remarks, PJM CEO Andrew Ott set the table for a trio of presentations by industry experts. Ott pointed out that system planning and the evolution of the grid is a national issue.

He said that it is no surprise that two of the most significant factors that are changing the electric utility industry are also driving the evolution of transmission planning – load growth and the changing fuel mix. Load growth was 1.5 percent per year not long ago; now, it is forecast at 0.2 percent per year over the next 10 years.

Ott pointed out that the complexities of transmission planning reflect the evolving drivers in the industry – public policy discussion, retiring coal resources and new gas resource investment, aging infrastructure, distributed energy resources and resilience of the grid.

There are a number of issues that grid operators will examine– from balancing probabilities and costs to looking at the resilience of both individual components and the overall system – when considering the needs of replace aging infrastructure.

All of these factors drive PJM and other grid operators to examine the evolution of planning processes. Ott said that whatever happens on the state and national level will most likely lead to a more flexible and adaptable industry.

David Whiteley, executive director of the Eastern Interconnection Planning Collaborative, looked at what he termed the “yesterday, today and tomorrow of transmission planning.”

Whiteley discussed the challenges to planning analysis today, including uncertainty in load forecasts, changes in fuel usage, the location of new resources and changing public policy.

He said that complexity in the planning process is a good thing, however, because it leads to a more rigorous analysis in order to reach the best possible answers. While it may be more difficult and time-consuming, Whiteley said the efforts will be worth it in the long run.

Stan Hadley, senior researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, discussed grid modernization and developing a framework using six different metric categories – affordability, reliability, resilience, flexibility, sustainability and security.

He likened the process to a “decision tree,” saying that the modernization cannot be a one-size-fits-all proposition. The framework– from simplified to state-of-the-art – reflects the different needs, resources and preferences of the group designing it. The perspectives of the analysts and model designers will dictate what branch of the “tree” they will follow and this allows them to conduct, interpret and compare the studies to reflect the different variables.

Ben Hobbs, professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, looked at the economics of different tools, with an emphasis on how the stochastic model might work best in the future.

He discussed the practicality of stochastic planning and how that model examines the complexities of new transmission and generation, along with how a flexible investments strategy will allow a system to maneuver in the long run.

Steve Herling, vice president – Planning, conducted a questions-and-answer session after the presentations. Among the topics covered: resiliency, energy storage (including timing of use and location of resources) and integrating markets, operations and planning in gas/electric operations.