The Future is Now, PJM’s Seiler Tells IEEE Panel

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The grid of the future is here, and it’s going to take the entire industry coming together to navigate a rapidly evolving energy landscape into the next decade, PJM’s Ken Seiler said Thursday on a panel titled “Impact of Climate Change on the Power Grid,” at the IEEE Power & Energy Society General Meeting.

“We’re in the middle of a major transformation across the entire system,” Seiler, Vice President – Planning, said at the virtual session under the topic, “Decarbonization and the Grid of the Future.”

Seiler outlined the three pillars of PJM’s five-year strategy: facilitating the decarbonization of the grid, preparing for the grid of the future and fostering innovation – all amid a backdrop of industry change.

The fuel mix has rapidly skewed toward more renewable generation, he said, making the grid operator mindful of core aspects of operating an electrical grid that may change with the influx of renewables, including inertia, short circuit and frequency response.

The Interconnection Queue “Has Exploded”

The five coastal states in PJM’s footprint together have proposed developing more than 20,000 MW of offshore wind, Seiler said, noting that 93% of the 190,000 MW in PJM’s interconnection queue reflects solar, wind, storage or hybrid resources.

In fact, all but two of the states in the PJM region – which includes all or part of 13 states and Washington, D.C. – have renewable portfolio goals. They vary from places like Ohio, with a clean energy goal of 8.5% by 2026, to states like Virginia, which is shooting for 100% by 2045–2050.

“Our interconnection queue has just exploded over the last three years,” Seiler said. “We’ve basically quadrupled the number of requests and the number of MW being interconnected to our system.”

This industry transformation, he said, includes offshore wind, onshore renewables and storage – proposed both as a transmission asset as well as combined with generation to form a hybrid solution to increase the capacity factor for solar and wind generators.

In order to accommodate this new generation fleet, Seiler said, PJM will need a number of new tools and a number of new processes, including algorithms to best forecast when solar and wind will be available, so operators can efficiently dispatch the least-cost unit to provide the next megawatt of power onto the system.

Another challenge is aging infrastructure – the bulk transmission system was built in the mid-60s. Many of the renewable resources are distributed throughout the region and seeking to interconnect to the sub-transmission system serving most of the commercial and industrial customers and that infrastructure is even older, he said.

Seiler predicted that a number of advanced technologies would be used to optimize existing transmission rights-of-way, since the ability to build greenfield transmission is limited in congested East Coast areas.

He expects that the industry will rely more on underground transmission, high voltage direct current (HVDC) systems, smart-valve solutions, carbon-core conductors and other advanced technology.

 “It’s going to take a village to build out this system in a way that’s reliable and resilient and safe from all the risks we are seeing, including the cybersecurity threats we’re seeing today.”

Seiler was joined on the panel by Jessica Harrison of MISO, Ben Kroposki of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Richard Tabors of TCR and Mark O’Malley of Energy System Integration Group.