2018 in Review: Resilience Tops Year’s Energy Industry Themes

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The concept of resilience dominated nearly every energy industry conversation this past year. For PJM, that meant a continued holistic focus on being ready to operate through and quickly recover from potential large-scale grid disruptions, beyond typical bad weather or equipment outages that grid operators are required to prepare for under common reliability standards. Reliability and resilience are intertwined.

PJM’s ongoing effort to improve the resilience of the bulk power grid was reflected in a number of initiatives in 2018, including:

  • A comprehensive fuel security study, looking for any vulnerabilities to generators’ fuel delivery systems, the corresponding effects on capacity availability, and the overall impact on system reliability.
  • Efforts to improve gas/electric coordination for planning and operations
  • Internal cybersecurity and information technology enhancements
  • Focus on black-start assets and grid restoration capability, including the contribution of solar and storage resources
  • Requirements for emergency communications to execute essential functions during a major event
  • Review of potential infrastructure planning approaches
  • Review of market rules in areas such as reserves

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) initiated an industry-wide dialogue in January, when it rejected the Department of Energy’s proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear plants and released an administrative proceeding to study and better define grid resilience by engaging the system operators.

In its response, PJM outlined numerous steps it has taken or that are underway to enhance resilience on its system and detailed specific actions the Commission could take to ensure resilience across the country including the need for cross-sector coordination with the natural gas industry.

PJM President and CEO Andy Ott on two occasions testified on resilience-related matters before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

In January, he shared PJM’s experience weathering the “bomb cyclone” that kicked off the new year. In October, Ott was back in Washington, D.C. for a hearing on black-start services and grid restoration.

PJM Conducts Fuel Security Study

PJM in May embarked on a study of fuel security for the resources on its power system.

Planned retirements of generating plants, an evolving generation fleet and emerging risks of cyber and physical attack highlight the need to identify vulnerabilities in the fuel supply chain. For example, will increased dependence on natural gas generation and the pipelines that support those generators leave the system at greater risk of disruption? Pinpointing related concerns will enable PJM to establish criteria to value fuel security and develop solutions as necessary using the fuel-neutral, competitive discipline of the wholesale market.

The study tested the grid’s ability to endure high-impact, long-term disruptions to generators’ fuel supplies. PJM looked five years out, analyzing more than 300 scenarios that varied elements like extended periods of cold weather, customer demand, fuel availability, refueling frequency, generator-forced outage rates, generator retirements and replacements, and pipeline disruptions. PJM used winter scenarios because that is when the natural gas supply is strained by competition with commercial and home heating needs.

The results indicated that even in an extreme scenario, in an extended period of severe weather combined with high customer demand and fuel supply disruption, the PJM system would still remain reliable and fuel-secure – though PJM would start to see some reserve shortages. (See Ott’s column, Powering a Resilient Grid.)

While there is no imminent threat to the system, the study concluded that ensuring generator fuel security should be considered by PJM and its members, and that stakeholders should look for opportunities to address fuel security through the competitive wholesale electricity markets.

Stakeholders are expected to begin this work early 2019. Potential market rule changes could be filed with FERC in early 2020.

Continuing the Conversation

PJM will continue to analyze fuel security in 2019 with a focus on additional insights of cyber and physical security threats may be gleaned from federal agencies including the Department of Energy (DOE).

As part of its preliminary work, PJM contacted the DOE and other federal agencies to understand what to identify as realistic cyber or physical threats that could result in service impacts or delivery disruptions to natural gas pipeline systems, with a potential “downstream” impact to the bulk electric grid.

The DOE responded with information on threat actors and risks to assist PJM in developing scenarios and questions to inform operational impacts to pipeline operators. Additional work is required to further understand realistic cyber and physical threats to not only natural gas, but other fuel delivery systems as well.