City skyline at dusk with only a very few office building windows lit
Toronto during the Northeast blackout of 2003, which required black-starting of generating stations.

A black start is the process of restoring an electric power station or a part of an electric grid to operation without relying on the external electric power transmission network to recover from a total or partial shutdown.[1]

Power to restart a generating station may come from an on-site standby generator. Alternatively, where a large amount of power is required, a tie-line to another generating plant may be used to start the facility. Once the main generating units are running, the electrical transmission network can be re-connected and electrical loads restored.

Black-start power may be ensured by an agreement where a particular energy supplier is paid to make black start power available when required. Not all generating plants are suitable for providing black-start power to a network.

Station service power

Electrical generating plants require electric power to operate systems required in the plant. For example, a coal-fuelled plant requires conveyors, crushers, air compressors, and combustion air fans to operate. Steam cycle plants require large pumps to circulate water for steam boilers and for cooling of condensate water. Hydroelectric plants require power to open intake gates, and to adjust the hydraulic turbines for speed regulation. Even a wind turbine plant may require a relatively small amount of electric power for such things as adjusting blade pitch and direction.

Normally, the electric power used within the plant is provided by 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.

Standby power sources

To provide a black start, some power stations have small on-site diesel generators, normally called the black start diesel generator (BSDG), which can be used to start larger generators (of several megawatts capacity), which in turn can be used to start the main power station generators. Generating plants using steam turbines require station service power of up to 10% of their capacity for boiler feedwater pumps, boiler forced-draft combustion air blowers, and for fuel preparation. It is uneconomical to provide such a large standby capacity at each station, so black-start power must be provided over designated tie lines from another station.

Often hydroelectric power plants are designated as the black-start sources to restore network interconnections. A hydroelectric station needs very little initial power for starting purposes (just enough to open the intake gates and provide excitation current to the generator field coils) and can put a large block of power on line very quickly to allow start-up of fossil fuel or nuclear stations. Certain types of combustion turbine can be configured for a black start, providing another option in places without suitable hydroelectric plants.[2] In 2017, a utility in Southern California successfully demonstrated the use of a battery-based energy-storage system to provide a black start, firing up a combined-cycle gas turbine from an idle state.[3]

Startup sequence

One method of black start (based on a real scenario) might be as follows:

  1. A battery starts a small diesel generator installed in a hydroelectric generating station.
  2. The power from the diesel generator is used to bring the generating station into operation.
  3. Key transmission lines between the station and other areas are energized.
  4. The power from the station is used to start one of the nuclear/fossil-fuel-fired base load plants.
  5. The power from the base load plant is used to restart all of the other power plants in the system.

Power is finally re-applied to the general electricity distribution network and sent to the consumers. Often this will happen gradually; starting the entire grid at once may be unfeasible. In particular, after a lengthy outage during summer, all buildings will be warm, and if the power were restored at once, the demand from air conditioning units alone would be more than the grid could supply. In colder climates, a similar issue can occur in winter with the use of heating devices.

In a larger grid, in addition to this "single island" ("bottom-up") approach, different strategies can be involved:[4][5]

There are multiple methods of commencing a black start of an island: hydroelectric dams, diesel generators, open cycle gas turbines, grid scale battery stores, compressed air storage, and so on. Different generating networks take different approaches, dependent on factors such as cost, complexity, the availability of local resources (e.g. suitable valleys for dams), the interconnectivity with other generating networks, and the response time necessary for the black start process.

Procurement of black start services

An operator at ERCOT

In the United Kingdom, the grid operator has commercial agreements in place with some generators to provide black start capacity, recognizing that black start facilities are often not economical in normal grid operation.[11] It is typical of power stations from the era of the Central Electricity Generating Board to have a number of open-cycle gas turbines (i.e. no heat recovery modules attached) that can run the entirety of the plant necessary to operate a full generating unit; these would normally be started by diesel generators, fed in turn by battery backups. Once up to speed, these gas turbines are capable of running the entire plant associated with the rest of the power station, negating the need to bring power in from other sources.

In the North American independent system operators, the procurement of black starting varies somewhat. Traditionally, the black-start capability was provided by integrated utilities and the costs were rolled into a broad tariff for cost recovery from ratepayers. In those areas which are not part of organized electricity markets, this is still the usual procurement mechanism. In the deregulated environment, this legacy of cost-based provision has persisted, and even recent overhauls of black-start procurement practices, such as that by the ISO New England, have not necessarily shifted to a competitive procurement, even though deregulated jurisdictions have a bias for market solutions rather than cost-of-service (COS) solutions.

In the United States, there are currently three methods of procuring black start. The most common is cost-of-service, as it is the simplest and is the traditional method. It is currently used by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), the PJM Interconnection[12] and the New York Independent System Operator[13] (NYISO). Although the exact mechanisms differ somewhat the same approach is used, namely that units are identified for black start and their documented costs are then funded and rolled into a tariff for cost recovery.

The second method is a new method used by the Independent System Operator of New England[14] (ISO-NE). The new methodology is a flat-rate payment which increases black-start remuneration to encourage provision. The monthly compensation paid to a generator is determined by multiplying a flat rate (in $/kWyr and referred to as the $Y value) by the unit's Monthly Claimed Capability for that month. The purpose of this change was to simplify procurement and encourage provision of the black start service.

The final method of procurement is competitive procurement as used by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas[15] (ERCOT). Under this approach, ERCOT runs a market for black-start services. Interested participants submit an hourly standby cost in $/hr (e.g. $70 per hour), often termed an availability bid, that is unrelated to the capacity of the unit. Using various criteria, ERCOT evaluates these bids and the selected units are paid as bid, presuming an 85% availability. Each black-start unit must be able to demonstrate that it can start another unit in close proximity, in order to begin the islanding and synchronization of the grid.

In other jurisdictions there are differing methods of procurement. The New Zealand System Operator[16] procures the blackstart capability via competitive tender. Other jurisdictions also appear to have some sort of competitive procurement, albeit perhaps not as structured as that of ERCOT. These include the Alberta Electric System Operator,[17] as well as Independent Electric System Operator of Ontario,[18] both of which use a long-term "request for proposals" approach similar to New Zealand and ERCOT.

The first black start on Germany's grid was tested in 2017 at WEMAG battery power station in Schwerin on a disconnected, isolated grid. The WEMAG battery plant proved that it can restore the power grid after major disruption or blackout.[19]

Limitations on black start sources

Not all generating plants are suitable for black-start capability. Wind turbines are not always suitable for black start because wind may not be available when needed.[20] Wind turbines, mini-hydro, or micro-hydro plants, are often connected to induction generators which are incapable of providing power to re-energize the network.[21] In 2020, the 69 MW Dersalloch wind farm black-started part of the Scotland grid, using virtual synchronous machines.[22][23] The black-start unit must also be stable when operated with the large reactive load of a long transmission line. Many high-voltage direct current (HVDC) converter stations cannot operate into a "dead" system, either, since they require commutation power[clarification needed] from the system at the load end. A pulse-width modulation (PWM)-based voltage-source converter HVDC scheme has no such restriction.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Knight, U.G. Power Systems in Emergencies - From Contingency Planning to Crisis Management John Wiley & Sons 2001 ISBN 978-0-471-49016-6 section 7.5 The 'Black Start' Situation
  2. ^ Philip P. Walsh, Paul Fletcher Gas turbine performance, John Wiley and Sons, 2004 ISBN 0-632-06434-X, page 486
  3. ^ "California battery's black start capability hailed as 'major accomplishment in the energy industry'". May 17, 2017.
  4. ^ Gevorgian et al. 2021, p. 3.
  5. ^ PJM 2018, pp. 102–118.
  6. ^ PJM 2018, pp. 103–106.
  7. ^ PJM 2018, pp. 107–109.
  8. ^ PJM 2018, pp. 110–112.
  9. ^ PJM 2018, pp. 113–115.
  10. ^ PJM 2018, pp. 116–118.
  11. ^ Introduction to Black Start Archived 2006-05-21 at the Wayback Machine (National Grid plc) Covers technical and commercial background.
  12. ^ See PJM Tariff: Schedule 6A of the PJM Tariff, available online at: Archived 2008-12-09 at the Wayback Machine and Blackstart Business Rules, available online at: Archived 2014-12-16 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ See the NYISO Accounting and Billing Manual, 2006, available online at: Archived 2012-02-17 at the Wayback Machine NYISO Ancillary Services Manual 2006, available at "NYISO (Documents - Manuals - Operations)". Archived from the original on 2008-09-12. Retrieved 2008-12-24. NYISO Tariff (2006) at Rate Schedule 5, starting page 91, Revised Sheet 311, and Rate Schedule 6, starting at Revised Sheet No. 269, available online at "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-12. Retrieved 2008-12-24.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ See ISO-NE "Order Accepting Application" Docket No. ER03-291, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Issued Feb. 14 2003, available online at ISO-NE Open Access Transmission Tariff 2006 at p. 311, available online at "ISO New England - Open Access Transmission Tariff (OATT)". Archived from the original on 2008-10-25. Retrieved 2008-12-24. ISO-NE A3 Black Start Working Group Memo to the NEPOOL Transmission Committee, May 9, 2006 available online at
  15. ^ See ERCOT Protocols Section 6, 2006 available online at: "ERCOT - Current Protocols". Archived from the original on 2008-11-22. Retrieved 2008-12-24. ERCOT's bidding form is available online at:
  16. ^ Electricity Commission of New Zealand (2005-11-01). "Electricity Governance Rules, Schedule C5 - Procurement Plan" (PDF). pp. 180–182. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-10-07. Retrieved 2008-12-24.
  17. ^ See Archived 2009-03-18 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ See "Ancillary Services". Archived from the original on 2008-12-28. Retrieved 2008-12-24.
  19. ^ Hales, Roy L. (August 15, 2017). "First Black Start On Germany's Grid". CleanTechnica.
  20. ^ Fox, Brendan et al; Wind Power Integration - Connection and System Operational Aspects, Institution of Engineering and Technology, 2007 ISBN 978-0-86341-449-7 page 245
  21. ^ George G. Karady, Keith E. Holbert, Electrical Energy Conversion and Transport: An Interactive Computer-Based Approach, John Wiley & Sons, 2013, ISBN 1118498038 page 9-57
  22. ^ Reid, Scott (3 November 2020). "ScottishPower in 'pioneering world first' after wind farm black-out boost". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 5 November 2020.
  23. ^ "Innovation". Scottish Power Renewables. 3 November 2020. Archived from the original on 3 November 2020.
  24. ^ Beaty, H. Wayne; Fink, Donald G. (ed) Standard Handbook for Electrical Engineers (15th Edition), McGraw-Hill 2007 ISBN 978-0-07-144146-9 page 15-22


Further reading