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Grid control

Managing the energy transition

Terry Boston is leading PJM Interconnection, which oversees the largest power grid in North America, through a time of unprecedented change. To maintain the security and reliability of the power grid, PJM partnered with Siemens to create one of the world’s most advanced grid management systems.

As chief executive officer and president of PJM Interconnection, Terry Boston oversees the largest power grid in North America and the world’s largest electricity market. More than 61 million people in 13 states and Washington, D.C. rely on PJM, whose region borders New York City, stretches west far beyond Chicago, and extends to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Boston is leading PJM through a time of unprecedented change. Renewable energy resources such as wind and solar are playing a greater role in meeting energy needs in the PJM network. Even more significantly, coal-fired power plants are being shuttered as new natural gas plants come online in what Boston has described as the world’s largest and fastest fuel transition.

Maintaining the security and reliability of the power grid is more important than ever, which is why PJM partnered with Siemens to create one of the world’s most advanced grid management systems. The Advanced Control Center (AC2) features two fully functional primary control centers located at distant sites that can function independently or jointly to provide uninterrupted grid control in even the most difficult circumstances.

“Reliability is paramount,” Boston emphasizes. “If the lights aren’t on, then nothing we do at PJM matters.”

Reliability is paramount. If the lights aren’t on, then nothing we do at PJM matters.
Terry Boston, president and CEO of PJM Interconnection

Reliable and flexible

In addition to being the world’s most advanced energy management system, the AC2 also is the most flexible. It uses a shared architecture platform to facilitate integration with other systems and to make it easier to incorporate new technologies. This flexibility is critical to a company that is constantly testing and incorporating new technologies in today’s energy market.

The PJM network now includes more than 400 synchrophasors, which measure voltage, current, and frequency at specific points in the network 30 times each second – compared to the industry standard technology of once every four seconds. By providing more accurate feedback on grid performance, the devices enable operators to anticipate and prevent problems, improve demand response, and better integrate intermittent resources such as wind energy.

From its Advanced Control Center, PJM manages the largest power grid in North America

Pilot projects on the PJM campus are also exploring ways to improve the management of the inherent intermittency of solar and wind power. Large arrays of lithium-ion batteries and even water heaters are being used to store energy in response to signals from the grid. PJM is also working with car manufacturers to demonstrate how wholesale electricity pricing signals can be communicated to electric vehicles so that they can automatically charge themselves at a given price point.

Managing the energy grid for today and into the future is a remarkably complex endeavor, but a conversation with Boston invariably returns to the importance of preparation and planning to ensure the reliability that the modern economy demands.

“Through good planning,” Boston emphasizes, “you can reduce the consumption and cost of energy substantially.”

Sameh Fahmy, technology journalist based in Athens, Georgia, USA.
Picture credits: PJM, Agnes Thor