I like big grids. Only with flexible, strong, intelligent bulk power grids can we hope to bring remotely located renewable energy — particularly grid-scale wind, solar, hydro and geothermal — to load sources at a price point our customers can live with.

I’ve been talking with Terry Boston, CEO of PJM, the independent system operator that serves 60 million customers and the largest wholesale market in the United States. Terry is also the president of GO 15, an organization made up of the world’s 16 largest power grid operators who dispatch power to 70% of the electricity demand in the world. Now we are talking big grids!

GO 15 provides a forum where large grid operators can interact, share common problems and, more importantly, share common solutions and best practices while providing factual information to policy decision-makers and the public at large about the challenges and opportunities grid operators face in keeping electricity reliable.

Terry painted a picture of the potential impact of decisions within the organization, stating: “Our GO 15 membership is impressive with members on six continents. They touch nearly half the world’s population, almost 3.5 billion people.” These statistics back up to the critical role grid operators play in the well being of societies and economies.

GO 15 member system operators today find themselves facing unprecedented challenges in the form of weather extremes. At the same time, they face the integration of renewable energy sources, storage technologies and demand-side resources. Grid operators also must address increasingly difficult environmental issues while simultaneously tracking and responding to powerful yet divergent customer use trends and growth patterns. Each GO 15 member experiences these challenges in different ways and at different levels. Members are eager to learn from one another as they work to transform the electricity sector.

Asked to address what issues at PJM are being shared with the GO 15, Terry stated: “We are talking a lot about ‘resilience,’ the ability to recover quickly from severe high-impact events. We need a resilient grid if we are to reduce both the size and the duration of major interruptions.”

Terry highlighted the need to collaboratively seek ways to respond to major events. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy, the largest North Atlantic hurricane in modern history, put more than 5 million PJM customers in the dark and blacked out a total of 8.3 million in the Northeastern United States. Terry put the event in perspective: “Instead of an N-1 contingency, we had N-142 elements out.”

“We are willing to share our experiences and what we learned with our GO 15 members,” continued Terry. “And our members are sharing with us on similar experiences, including the tsunami that struck Japan two years ago, caused catastrophic damage in Japan but also impacted utility operations worldwide.” Terry sees the concept of resilience critical as GO 15 members plan, build, operate and maintain major grid systems.

Terry acknowledged that most of the progress in GO 15 occurs within working groups. In Paris last November, the GO 15 executive committee set the direction for working groups that are addressing synchrophasor applications, enhanced grid monitoring, the integration of renewables, the impact of wind and solar generation on system stability, demand response, incorporating HVDC into the grid, integration of electric vehicles, energy storage, control system architecture standards, mutual assistance and crisis communications. T&D World, working with the communications team within GO 15, will be sharing the results of the individual technical committees in future issues.

Perhaps of most importance is the initiative within GO 15 to demonstrate the impact of properly constructed markets to optimize the use of existing assets while creating incentives to foster new investments. We simply must have proper financial incentives in place to assure significant and appropriate investments in infrastructure.

Not that many decades ago, making a grid more resilient largely meant building more infrastructure, adding more interconnections and greater capacity. And to be sure, new infrastructure is still important. But major catastrophic events experienced over the past decade have brought about a worldwide shift in thinking. Today, it is not enough for me to state that I like big grids. Rather, I can emphatically state, “I like big, strong, intelligent, resilient grids.

Editor’s note: The GO 15 members are AEMO (Australia), CSG (China), ELIA Group (Belgium), ESKOM (South Africa), KPX (South Korea), MISO (United States), National Grid (United Kingdom), ONS (Brazil), PGCIL (India), PJM Interconnection (United States), REE (Spain), RTE (France), SGCC (China), SO UPS (Russia), TEPCO (Japan) and TERNA (Italy).