From Classroom to Control Room

Wharton Undergradate Energy Group at PJM Offices

You can learn a lot in a classroom, but sometimes you need to learn in the field. That is just what the Wharton Undergraduate Energy Group did this month when they traveled to Audubon, Pennsylvania to visit the headquarters of PJM Interconnection.

While some students on the field trip, like MBA student Michael Alexander, had experience with the energy industry, others like freshman Yide Zhao were less seasoned.

“It helps a freshman like me become familiar with some basics of an energy company,” said Zhao. “It was interesting to learn the difference between capacity and reserves, as well as how different desks communicate with each other in the control center. The trip helped me gain more insight in the energy field and has encouraged me to learn more about it in the future.”

PJM is a regional transmission organization (RTO) that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity. It is an essential player in the energy landscape and its facilities play an incredibly important role in the coordination of electricity generation and distribution from Chicago to Washington, D.C.

While at PJM, Wharton students had the opportunity to hear presentations from Senior Lead Economist Laura Walter and Senior Economist Rami Dirani. Walter and Dirani explained how PJM interacts with the energy industry at market, planning, and operations levels. They also illustrated the challenges of ensuring there is always enough electricity flowing to power the region.

Students learned that PJM plans years out to ensure that the region has the capacity needed to handle demand when population growth is expected or generators are expected to deactivate. PJM must also use different market incentives to either signal that less electricity is needed when transmission lines are becoming congested, or to encourage plants to turn on.

The field trip also included a tour of the main control room, where students saw real-time analytics of the state of electricity. During this unseasonable hot November day, energy usage was closer to what a “summer curve” looked like than a “winter curve.” Typically, more energy is used in summer than winter, as people power up their air conditioning units. Seeing the room where it all happens was an incredible opportunity for the group; they saw a snapshot of the current state of energy in the PJM region.

By visiting PJM, speaking with senior economists, and visiting the control room itself, students saw just how complex and ever-changing the energy industry can be. While the average person may not think twice about flicking on a light, there are hundreds of different players involved in providing the region with reliable energy, from generators, to consumers, to PJM itself.

Do you have an energy idea you want funded? Learn more about our student grants that make opportunities like this trip possible.