Are blackouts coming this winter?

First, don’t panic.

We’ve seen alarming statements (attributed to PJM) that the region we serve faces possible blackouts this winter because of coal plant retirements.

First, PJM has NOT said there’s a higher threat to the grid this winter (2014/2015).

We have identified potential problems after that if there’s another “Polar Vortex,” like the unusual one we experienced in January.

While coal retirements are a factor in the challenges we see for upcoming winters, we believe they are manageable. The larger issue is the performance of generators (all types of generators) during very cold weather. If generators of all fuel types are available to run and perform with normal efficiency and flexibility during cold weather, PJM should have fewer problems dealing with the highest demands for electricity in winter.

PJM and our stakeholders are in the middle of discussions on ways to encourage stronger generator performance during winter months. We expect a final proposal in November.

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Enhanced PJM Issue Tracking Makes It Easier for You to Track an Issue Across PJM Stakeholder Process

PJM has enhanced the Issue Tracking Web pages to respond to member requests and needs. The new Issue Tracking features allow members to track a single issue across the PJM stakeholder process without searching numerous committee Web pages to monitor progress.Issue Tracking Enhancements

A comprehensive list of all significant issues PJM and its members are working on can be viewed and filtered by open or closed issues. Also, new tabs on the Issue Tracking page enable members to view specific information about each issue. The different tabs for an issue are:

  • Overview – shows strategic focus area, issue status, stakeholder process status and Members Committee annual plan
  • Proposed Timeline – timeline of how the issue will move through the stakeholder process
  • Process Status – where the issue is in the stakeholder process, such as in review or approved

Other customization options on the page make it easy to see the committee level where the issue resides. Members can also sort by the committee owning the issue and they can search for an issue by typing in a key word.

Issue Tracking also now functions on mobile devices such as a tablet or phone.

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PJM Has the Power to Keep You Cool

As summer begins and we all try to keep ourselves cool and comfortable, PJM and its members are prepared with enough resources to power air conditioners and electric fans for the 61 million people in the region. Typically, the greatest use of electricity comes during the summer months.

To help you beat the heat and meet the expected demand for electricity, PJM has about 183,000 megawatts of installed generation to use plus demand response resources.

That sounds like a lot of generation, but PJM expects the highest energy use this summer to be around at 157,000 megawatts. (One megawatt of electricity is enough to power 800 to 1,000 homes). Last summer, because of hotter than normal weather, PJM’s actual peak electricity use was 157,141 megawatts. And, historically, the highest ever demand for electricity on the PJM system was 165,492 megawatts in July 2011.

Demand response, by the way, is a program in which consumers agree in advance to reduce their power use when PJM calls for the reduction and they are compensated when they do.

For more details on our assessment of summer needs and resources, see our news release (PDF) on the PJM website.

If you’d like to see what the power use is across the grid right now, check out the load curve chart on When the charts appear, choose the “load” tab. With the load curve, you can see what is forecasted and what the actual and real-time use of power is.

PJM and our members are ready to get you through the heat of summer.

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Keeping the Lights On During the Polar Vortex in January 2014

With a hot weather alert in effect this week for the region PJM serves, the frigid temperatures of January seem like a distant memory. However, as PJM learned during the 2014 Polar Vortex, grid operations can be challenging year-round, in hot or cold weather.

A new video on the PJM Learning Center features Chris Pilong, who manages grid operations for PJM, discussing how PJM kept power flowing during the extreme cold in January. In the video, Keeping the Lights On During the Polar Vortex in January 2014, Pilong talks about how PJM and our members, as well as consumers who responded to PJM’s calls for conservation, all contributed to meeting the challenge of prolonged, record-breaking extreme cold. The weather in January 2014 led to eight of the 10 highest winter demands for electricity ever recorded in the PJM region.

Watch the video on the PJM Learning Center or click below.

PJM plans a series of similar videos on different topics to be featured on the Learning Center.

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Lessons learned from the winter’s cold weather impact on the grid

For most of us who endured this winter’s harsh weather, May’s mildness has mellowed our angst and thawed our chill. Yet, as guardians of the grid’s reliability, PJM isn’t forgetting. We have been studying the lessons learned through that experience to see how we can apply them to future operations.

This winter was marked by record-setting milestones and unprecedented challenges for the grid. Eight of the 10 highest winter records for demand were set in January, normally ample operational reserves were pinched by above-average generation outages, and natural gas supply issues boosted up prices.

Still, despite it all, the PJM and its members withstood the pressure and reliably met demand. PJM and its members did this through a number of pre-defined steps, including calling on all available resources, issuing public appeals for conservation and calling on load management resources, which responded voluntarily. (January was not yet part of the period when load management capacity resources were required to respond.) In spite of published reports to the contrary, even on the day with the tightest power supplies – January 7 – several steps remained before electricity interruptions might have been necessary.

PJM has published an “Analysis of Operational Events and Market Impacts During the January 2014 Cold Weather Events (PDF),” otherwise known as the Cold Weather Report. It is the culmination of information-gathering and reports we’ve used to testify to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Senate, state legislative bodies and others. Our intention is to begin an open dialogue with stakeholders about the 14 recommendations.

Some recommendations from the report include:

  • To improve generator availability and performance during peak electricity use days,
  • To improve available information about the status of generating units, such as fuel and emission limits,
  • To develop recommendations to improve natural gas and electricity systems coordination, and
  • To review the cost allocation process for out-of-market payments to maintain reliability.

Although we are expecting a very hot summer and will likely not see the same issues we saw this winter, we are working to be prepared. (Watch for an upcoming article on summer expectations.)



January 07, 2014 Load Curve

January 07, 2014 Load Curve

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How the Way Natural Gas Is Delivered Can Affect Generators

Natural gas is commonly thought of as a fuel used to power gas stoves and heat homes during cold weather. However, the discovery of and ability to extract pockets of natural gas from shale rock formations has made gas supplies more abundant and dramatically lowered prices, meaning gas is being used more often to produce electricity. As more power providers consider using natural gas to fuel their generators, PJM and other grid operators are working with the natural gas industry to make sure the fuel is available when it’s needed to produce power.

Compared to a coal generator, which can stockpile its fuel on site, a natural gas generator needs to have its fuel delivered “just in time” through interstate pipelines. Because natural gas can’t easily be stored, a generator needs to determine how the pipeline company in its region will deliver the fuel. Pipeline companies offer two types of transportation service: firm and interruptible.

When a generator chooses to use firm transportation, it pays for guaranteed gas delivery at a predetermined rate.

Many generators instead choose to use interruptible transportation because they don’t have to pay for gas delivery service they may not need. While this is a less costly option, it also means that the natural gas may not be able to be delivered when it is needed because gas pipeline customers with firm service have a higher priority.

Gas becomes less available to generators during cold weather because the fuel must first be used to heat homes and businesses (that use natural gas for heat). Similar to how high electricity demand can strain transmission lines; high demand for natural gas can cause constraints on pipelines. In this kind of situation, interruptible gas service to generators can be interrupted.

When a natural gas generator can’t operate, it means tighter power supplies when the need for electricity is critical. Because of this, PJM and other grid operators are working to coordinate between the electricity and natural gas industries to make sure there is enough gas available to fuel generators when needed.

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Join PJM on Feb. 7 and 8 for a DOE Code-A-Thon to Create Innovative Energy Apps

Code-A-ThonPJM Interconnection and the U.S. Department of Energy invite energy enthusiasts, those with coding skills, and PJM members, employees and contractors to brainstorm, collaborate and begin creating apps designed to address today’s energy challenges. PJM will host an American Energy Data Challenge Code-A-Thon on Feb. 7 and 8 at the PJM Conference and Training Center in Valley Forge, Pa.


Participants will create teams and work to build an app based on the application programming interfaces provided, the Green Button initiative or one of the DOE Challenge ideas provided. At the end of the event, submissions will be judged by an expert panel as well as the public. First prize for the best app is $1,500 and second prize is $1,000. Apps can also be entered in the nationwide contest where up to $100,000 in prizes will be awarded by DOE.

Want to get involved? Check out the Code-A-Thon Flyer (PDF) for more information including the agenda and register for the event by Feb. 6. There is no cost to participate. Participants must commit to both days of the event and must be pre-registered to participate.


PJM is hosting the Code-A-Thon to support and facilitate the exploration of new and emerging innovative technologies that can benefit the electric industry and consumers.

The American Energy Data Challenge, which was launched in November, consists of four contests held quarterly. More than 100 ideas were submitted during the first contest, with a total of $10,000 awarded to 12 winners in December. The Apps for Energy II contest will run until March 9, with winners announced in late March. Two additional challenges — Energy Data by Design and the American Energy Challenge — will be rolled out in the coming months, culminating in a call for bold ideas to re-imagine America’s energy infrastructure. More information and rules are available online.

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How do PJM Markets Ensure There is Enough Power for the Future?

PJM has created a new video for the Learning Center on to help you understand how PJM’s market ensures enough power for the future.

You can view the video about PJM’s capacity market, the Reliability Pricing Model, on the Market for Electricity page.  A link to the video is also embedded in the image below; simply click on the image to begin viewing the video.

This video is one of many ongoing enhancements being made to the Learning Center, an online education tool that provides high level information about the electricity industry and PJM’s role in ensuring the reliability of the power grid. See what’s new in the Electricity Basics section at


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Grid 20/20 Forum explores how industry can become more resilient to threats

By Paula DuPont-Kidd

The power grid is not powerless over situations that could threaten its reliability and resilience.

The message from nearly a dozen industry experts is that combatting threats to the power grid is a matter of constant vigilance and the power industry must build a culture of resilience. These experts addressed PJM’s Grid 20/20 Forum: Focus on Resilience in November in Philadelphia.

Terry Boston and Cheryl LaFleur

Terry Boston and Cheryl LaFleur

Opening remarks by PJM President and CEO Terry Boston (PDF) echoed the idea that the industry and the country must build a culture of resilience. That theme was also supported in remarks by keynote addresses from both Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur (PDF) and former Pennsylvania Governor and first U.S. Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge (PDF).

Tom Ridge

Tom Ridge

The forum focused on three panels:

  • robustness and the ability to absorb shocks and keep operating during a physical or cyber security event,
  • resourcefulness and the ability to manage a disruption as it unfolds and communication best practices and thirdly,
  • resilience and the ability to absorb the shock, develop lessons learned and get back to normal.

Personal responsibility

(L-R) Mark Johnson, Sherri Ramsay, Mike Smith, H. Kevin Strogan and Scott Heffentrager

(L-R) Mark Johnson, Sherri Ramsay, Mike Smith, H. Kevin Strogan and Scott Heffentrager

Sherry Ramsay (PDF), CyberPoint International, warned that sometimes we all are a little lax in creating strong passwords or using routers that have the original factory-setting security code. She said some companies have had their websites held for ransom and that more of this kind of activity is coming from nation-states.

H. Kevin Stogran

H. Kevin Stogran

Kevin Stogran (PDF), American Electric Power, described steps his company has taken along with others in the industry to create a Cyber Operations Center. He called for more industry-wide sharing of best practices. He said that companies can only control so much but the best way to be prepared was, “exercise, exercise, exercise.”

Speakers underscored the need to develop relationships with other industry partners and governing authorities before a crisis. Scott Aronson (PDF), Edison Electric Institute, said that good communication with the other responding authorities is key to good response coordination.

The presentations by the panelists are at

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The 2003 Blackout’s Effect in Perspective

On August 14, 2003, a massive blackout disrupted large parts of the eastern United States and Canada, causing an estimated 50 million people to be without power. The blackout spread through areas of Ohio, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, as well as parts of Ontario and Quebec.

The team investigating the blackout estimated that more than 70,000 megawatts of power was lost during the event. To put this in perspective, in non-severe weather conditions, one megawatt can power between 800 and 1,000 average-sized American homes.

To learn more about the blackout and what PJM and others have done to improve the electric grid, visit the PJM Learning Center.

The infographic below shows a variety of things you can power with one megawatt-hour of electricity.


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