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PJM grid ready for offshore wind, study says

With some upgrades, the PJM Interconnection is capable of transmitting up to 70GW of new capacity from offshore wind.

One of the largest electric grids in the US could handle a 35GW injection of offshore wind, provided transmission lines are upgraded, according to a study published by the University of Delaware and Princeton University.

The PJM Interconnection services 60 million people in the US's Mid-Atlantic region and is capable of delivering large amounts of electricity produced by turbines off the east coast, computer models used in the study have shown. Future upgrades to the grid could allow up to 70GW of new offshore capacity, the report's authors state.

As the US moves closer to harnessing the potential of offshore wind off its east coast, concerns have been raised about whether electric grids are prepared to transmit an influx of new power. However, with some new transmission lines, the PJM – which spans 14 states from Maryland to North Carolina – could be ready.

Another concern about adding large amounts of offshore wind to the energy mix is intermittency.

Cristina Archer, one of the report's authors, asked, “What would you do as a grid operator if you thought it was going to be windy today and it isn't?”

“Although we found that reserves were needed – 21 percent of the 70GW wind capacity – there are a number of strategies that could be investigated to better handle the variability,” said Warren Powell, a Princeton University professor and another of the report's authors. “The uncertainty of wind will require that we develop strategies to minimise the need for spinning reserve.”

Adding up to 70GW of offshore wind could cut PJM's carbon and sulfur dioxide emissions by 50 percent, the report said.

Despite huge potential, the US trails far behind Europe in offshore wind development. While Europe has 12GW of installed capacity, the US has only recently brought its first project online, with 30MW of power generation.

There are a number of projects along the US east coast in different stages of development, but none are currently being constructed.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency responsible for managing waters meant for offshore wind, has awarded a number of lease areas in PJM territory. Commercial lease sales for areas near Maryland and New Jersey have been awarded to companies in the past few years, and North Carolina's first offshore wind lease auction is planned for this March.