Electric Grid Reliability at Risk by 2030, PJM Says

by James A. Bacon

The regional interconnection organization PJM has identified four trends that could put the reliability of the electric grid for Virginia and a dozen other member states at risk by 2030.

Dudes, that’s seven years away!

According to a new study, “Energy Transition in PJM: Resource Retirements, Replacements & Risks,” the four trends include:

  • The growth rate of electricity demand is likely to continue to increase from electrification coupled with the proliferation of high-demand data centers in the region.
  • Thermal generators are retiring at a rapid pace due to government and private sector policies as well as economics.
  • Retirements are at risk of outpacing the construction of new resources, due to a combination of industry forces, including siting and supply chain, whose long-term impacts are not fully known.
  • PJM’s interconnection queue is composed primarily of intermittent and limited-duration resources. Given the operating characteristics of these resources, we need multiple megawatts of these resources to replace 1 MW of thermal generation.

“For the first time in recent history, PJM could face decreasing reserve margins should these trends continue,” states the report.

There is uncertainty in these projections, PJM concedes. The degree to which reserve margins shrink depends on whether the “low entry” or “high entry” scenario for renewable power sources coming on line pans out. But given the fact that Virginia energy policy mandates a net zero-carbon electric grid by 2045 in Dominion territory and 2050 in Apco territory, while also pushing the automobile fleet from internal combustion engines to electric battery-powered, even the possibility of a low-entry scenario is troubling.

Furthermore, the PJM study projects out only to 2030. Virginia, like other states, will continue retiring fossil fuel plants and will rely increasingly upon intermittent renewable sources in subsequent years. Under current law, the grid will rely almost entirely upon intermittent renewable sources, requiring Virginia to import electricity from other states during cloudy days or still winds — if the capacity is available, and if the transmission-line capacity exists to conduct the electricity.

Not only will reliability be at risk, but electricity will be more expensive, the report hints. Pay attention to this sentence: “We need multiple megawatts of [renewable] resources to replace 1 MW of thermal generation.” While individual solar panels in a utility-scale facility represent the cheapest source of energy currently available, the system-wide cost will be much more expensive if it requires significant redundant capacity, transmission lines, or battery storage.

Our society is committing energy suicide, fiscal suicide, and social suicide simultaneously. At least Rome could blame the barbarians for its fall. We’ll have only ourselves to blame.