Largest US energy grid operator to study too much reliance on natural gas

Largest US energy grid operator to study too much reliance on natural gas
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The largest electric grid operator in the U.S. on Monday announced plans to study the future risks of too much reliance on one energy source as coal plants retire and markets move towards liquid natural gas (LNG) consumption.

A new initiative by PJM Interconnection on energy grid reliance is building off conclusions from a 2017 report that found, "The system could remain reliable with the addition of more natural gas and renewable resources, but that 'heavy reliance on one resource type' raises potential resilience risks beyond existing reliability standards."

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The first phase of PJM's latest analysis will be to look for fuel vulnerabilities. Then they would model those and finally test criteria against specific delivery concerns flagged by the Department of Energy and other agencies from both a physical and cyber perspective.

PJM will also focus on if there is an overreliance on specific energy sources.

Speaking to reporters Monday, PJM President and CEO Andy Ott said the analysis is a key "proactive approach" to determine future grid stability needs.

PJM will look into how to best maintain energy security when demand is high, or when certain energy sources are unavailable due to physical, cyber or weather-related issues.

While PJM says the current U.S. energy system they operate is secure and reliable, Ott acknowledged "it is also a legitimate question as we look forward in time and these trends continue. Are we overdependent or increasingly dependent on one fuel infrastructure?"

The question comes as coal plants continue to struggle to survive within the U.S. and the energy market trends toward LNG consumption.

"In 2008, 5 percent of total electricity was natural gas — today it's in 20 to 30 percent range," Ott said. "It will continue to climb. We don't have a problem now. In fact, we're more diverse than we've ever been, but in some point in the future we may be overdependent on one pipeline."

Ott points to the reliance on not just one fuel source, but on one pipeline, as a major infrastructure and security concern.

"Today all infrastructure industries are worried about purposeful attacks," Ott said.

Ott said what fuel sources are used will also likely be determined by market competition.

"To play the markets would be the best way to implement these mechanisms, to be secure, reliable, least costly and resilient," Ott said.

He said renewable resources could play a role in supplementing sources, but they would have to be "robust" to qualify.

"Looking at this issue from a resilience perspective is something we feel that we need to do," said Ott.