2021 in Review: Flexibility & Preparedness Through Pandemic, Extreme Weather Ensure Reliable Operations


PJM and its members maintained reliable operations in 2021 through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and extreme weather, ensuring uninterrupted service to the 65 million people served across 13 states and Washington, D.C.

COVID-19 Pandemic Response

PJM continued to administer electricity markets and operations remotely or from campus in 2021, with the safety of the grid and PJM personnel as priorities.

The year began with a second phase of sequestered team operations in one of three operating control rooms, lasting through March. With the advent of widespread vaccine adoption by mid-summer, a PJM pilot program began returning some employees to campus while stakeholder meetings and training programs remained virtual. This pilot program tested campus protocols, facilities enhancements and work arrangements in preparation for the phased approach to returning to campus in early 2022.

In late 2021, PJM announced a comprehensive return-to-campus plan, which remains flexible and responsive to the dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning Jan. 4, PJM will require the COVID-19 vaccine for employees, contractors, vendors, members and other stakeholders to access the PJM campus or attend PJM events off campus. Some stakeholder meetings are scheduled to reconvene in person at PJM’s Valley Forge campus during the first quarter of 2022. For all PJM stakeholder and member meetings, remote attendance will remain available.

Winter Preparations, Remarkable Performance

Winter preparation at PJM includes drills, a winter checklist, fuel inventory data requests, and coordinated maintenance with members and neighboring power systems. Efforts like these prepare the grid to perform reliably through the coldest conditions.

On Jan. 29, 2021, PJM’s winter peak reached approximately 117,000 MW against the planned-for, peak winter forecast of 133,000 MW. PJM’s generation fleet performed well over the winter, with an average forced outage rate of 3.3%. This remarkably low outage rate stands as the lowest of any recent winter, except for the very mild 2019/2020 winter. While COVID-19-related restrictions had resulted in consistently lower peak usage in 2020, PJM estimated that COVID-19 impacts on weekday energy peaks had largely dissipated by January 2021.

PJM Generation Fleet Assists During Extreme Cold, Unplanned Outages

In early February, an arctic cold front accompanied by freezing precipitation swept through Texas and the South Central United States.

As February winter conditions remained near normal within most of the PJM footprint, operations personnel coordinated in step with neighboring grid operators to support system reliability amid record unplanned outages in South Central states and Texas. On Feb. 14 and 15, for example, PJM electricity exports set records of more than 13,000 MW for at least 10 hours, peaking at one point above 15,700 MW. Exports like these represent double the amount of power PJM generators typically provide outside the footprint.

In the wake of that extraordinary winter event, PJM and its members and stakeholders quickly applied lessons learned. Actions that followed throughout 2021 included:

  • Review of load shed procedures and business rules to minimize load shed impact to critical facilities during emergencies
  • Evaluation of cold weather generator preparedness, including minimum operating temperatures and any limitations that could impact winter operations, including wind and solar generators
  • Implementation of weekly data requests to support clearer picture of fuel inventory availability
  • Enhanced coordination, including routine weekly operational review meetings, with major natural gas pipeline operators

Supply Chain Issues Addressed

Temporary changes to PJM Emergency Operations procedures were approved by stakeholders in the fall of 2021 to enhance critical reliability tools in the event of potential fuel supply shortages or extreme weather.

Spurred by volatile commodity markets affecting coal and natural gas supplies worldwide, temporary Manual 13 changes allowed PJM more flexibility in managing generation to address possible local or regional reliability concerns resulting from fuel supply shortages.

Summer Peak Reliability

The PJM region recorded its peak summer day demand on Aug. 24 at approximately 149,000 MW, on target with the PJM 2021 summer peak forecast. Compared to energy use dampened by COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020, the 2021 summer demand reflected slightly higher energy use and above-normal temperatures. As a result, the summer of 2021 did not rank in the top 10 summer peak days for PJM, which recorded top all-time demand of 165,563 MW on Aug. 2, 2006.

GridEx Supports Emergency Preparedness

PJM joined electricity industry organizations across North America during Nov. 16–17 to test response and recovery plans to simulated cyberattacks and physical attacks on critical infrastructure in real time.

Every two years, PJM joins grid operators, utilities and government agencies for this hands-on, vital practice of emergency response, recovery plans and procedures. In 2021, PJM’s GridEx participation involved more than 300 personnel, including physical security, cybersecurity, gas-electric coordination, IT, operations and more. As a GridEx participant since its inception in 2011, PJM reviews critical lessons learned and continues to hone emergency response and preparedness, training and tools in response to evolving threats to our bulk electric system.

Meeting Uncertainty With Flexibility

As the coldest months approach in early 2022, PJM and its members are prepared to meet the forecasted demand of approximately 133,000 MW. Looking further ahead, PJM and its stakeholders continuously ensure that grid operations respond to unforeseen weather, threats, operational events and evolving generation characteristics required for the safe, secure dispatch of power.

PJM continues to work with stakeholders to better understand what is needed to maintain an efficient, reliable grid amid a rapidly evolving energy landscape. Ensuring effective integration of all resources into normal and emergency operations, via PJM’s consensus-driven stakeholder process, remains a central focus.