Report: Nation’s Grid Operators Have Sufficient ‘BlackStart’ Capability

Operators of the nation’s power grid have sufficient capability to quickly restore their systems using “blackstart” resources in the event of widespread outages, according to a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

The electric power used within a plant is usually provided from the station’s own generators. If all of the plant’s main generators are shut down, station service power is provided by drawing power from the grid through the plant’s transmission line. However, during a wide-area outage, off-site power from the grid is not available. In the absence of grid power, a so-called black start needs to be performed to bootstrap the power grid into operation.

Previous reviews from FERC and NERC and regional entities found issues with blackstart resources, both in terms of availability and in terms of ensuring that a blackstart resource can energize equipment necessary to restore the system as intended.

In 2017, the Commission, NERC, and the Regional Entities (joint study team) initiated a joint study based on previous report recommendations. The joint study focused on the availability of registered entities’ blackstart resources, the potential impact of recent changes to registered entities’ blackstart resources, and the manner in which any such impact could be mitigated.

The study looked at nine registered entities in total, all with with significant bulk-power system responsibilities. It found that all entities had verified that they have sufficient blackstart resources to support their system restoration plans, despite significant changes in the availability of blackstart resources in their area. It also observed that most participants’ system restoration plans have blackstart generating units with dual fuel capabilities (using both oil and gas). Most participants also indicated that they have access to other blackstart-capable units beyond those specifically identified in their current restoration plans.

The study made a number of recommendations based on its findings. The first was to mitigate risks associated with reliance on a single fuel by making sure blackstart resource owners work with their regulators as necessary to develop alternative solutions to address potential fuel constraints.

The report also recommended that the adequacy of compensation for blackstart and other resources supporting system restoration is explored.

It also suggests that registered entities perform simulations of their system restoration plans to ensure that the associated modeling data used to perform restoration plan simulations is accurate. Its fourth recommendation is that, where feasible, transmission operators, in coordination with blackstart and next-start generation operators, perform expanded testing of blackstart cranking paths.

And its final recommendation was that applicable registered entities that have not engaged in or performed expanded testing of their blackstart capability reach out to those who have performed such testing.

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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