This high-tech, high-touch company found itself in the eye of the storm on August 14, 2003. More precisely the media attention generated by being located in the 4th largest media market in the US at a stone's throw from a blackout of unknown causes that impacted 8 states and 1 province in Canada. And did not impact its network. Do you remember where you were then?
PJM's Media Relations Manager Ray Dotter does. That's because PJM Interconnection plays a vital role in delivering electricity to 51 Million people in 13 states (+D.C.) over 164,260 square miles of territory and 56,070 miles of transmission lines. Indeed, the Greater Philadelphia area hosts the company responsible for the largest centrally dispatched electricity grid in the world, which operates the largest competitive wholesale electricity market in the world.
Valley Forge, PA made the news again three short years ago.
The size of PJM's business is enormous, yet:
- The do not own any assets
- They are profit neutral
- They have no financial tie nor interest in the providers who participate in the utility market
They're like air traffic controllers. They help plan for regional lines and interconnect power generation for their 400+ members. This is a new kind of independence and a model that many other companies unknown to you have followed.
So how did we learn about PJM? We did precisely because of their location in a major media market and their technical knowledge of the power industry. In August 2003, national and international media descended upon PJM's headquarters wanting answers, wanting sound bytes and, that immediate need to fill air time satiated, wanting to know why a company no one had heard of managed to keep the grid from going down in the regions it supports.
Is PJM an aggregator?
The company ties together the physical needs of the system it supports. Any given calendar day, hour, minute and second the company makes sure there is enough power to keep the lights and your appliances on, operating what on the retail side fragments into many providers as if it were in fact, one single system.
The company orchestrates the balance between too much and too little energy. It monitors and coordinates more than 1,000 electric generators, 56,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and 3,660 substations. Power generators, utilities and power marketers coordinate their operations through PJM. Doing so makes major electric outages less likely to occur and reduces power costs.
You probably had not heard of PJM until August 2003. Yet, it manages to give you reliable, consistent power -- day in, day out. How many other companies, and people, do you know of, who manage to hold it all together for you? Do you learn about them only when things go wrong? How does one communicate when everything goes well? Does anyone miss hearing about those instances?