Andrew Ott became president and chief executive of PJM Interconnect late last year. The Energy Times recently caught up with Ott for a wide-ranging conversation about the evolving 89-year-old PJM transmission system, which serves 61 million customers in 13 states and the District of Columbia. This is the first of a two-part series.
ENERGY TIMES: You have more intelligence and insight into your operations than ever before. How is that transforming your business?
OTT: Today you need to be more sophisticated in forecasting demand because you need to look out for technologies that change the way customers use electricity.
We now have the ability to forecast demand at the substation level based on pricing and weather. It’s at the beginning stages.
One of the areas that we’ve spent the most time on is trying to monitor resources. It’s easier to visualize the system if you have 10 or 12 big generators in an area.
If you have a thousand different distributed assets in an area, visualizing how they’re going to react to changing conditions and incentives is something we’ve been working on.
ENERGY TIMES: How does PJM is monitor weather and its impact on a vast service territory?
OTT: One of the key benefits of a regional market the size of PJM is you do get diversity of weather, which really is a benefit because you’re now operating over a larger area, so you can leverage.
Weather forecasting and demand forecasting is much more granular. It’s taking advantage of the technology available to us to forecast better.
ENERGY TIMES: One of the concerns that continues to be top of mind for a lot of people in the industry is grid cybersecurity and physical security. What new strategies is PJM using on that front?
OTT: We look at security with a more sophisticated view now. Before people viewed security as really just defending against intrusion from a cyber perspective. From a physical perspective, it was looking at defending key areas of a system or buildings.
Now as we look at it, it’s much more a three-pronged approach. Of course, you still have defense – keeping the bad guys out. Then you go further. We have implemented a 24/7 cyber security monitoring system. We actually monitor our network traffic to look for out-of-the-ordinary type traffic to see if somebody did get in. Then we can cut them off through something called the cyber kill chain technique.
The third prong is recovery. What we look to do is really reduce the impact of any intrusion. There are a variety of techniques that you can use, segmenting networks and reducing impacts on critical systems.
It comes down to now, defending, monitoring, and recovery. It’s really the way to go as opposed to just trying to depend on keeping folks out. It’s a much more sophisticated approach.
ENERGY TIMES: How has your reliance on coal-fired generation changed?
OTT: As I look at the PJM footprint, the used to be 70, 80 percent coal. Today, we’re much more diverse. About one-third of our fleet is coal and one-third is natural gas.
What we have today are smart systems such as demand response, storage and distributed resources that are a lot more flexible.
PJM has about 300 megawatts of grid-scale batteries that are currently operating in our market to provide frequency regulation. They’re about 200 times faster in response than any generator. Speed sometimes is better than volume. Our system is becoming more resilient.
The system will evolve. I don’t see us losing 50,000 megawatts of coal generation overnight. Any loss of coal generation is going to happen over a period of years. As long as that transition is over this trajectory, I see that as being certainly achievable. I may have a different view than some others.
Next: Embracing Distributed Power