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Will There be Sufficient Blackstart Resources to Recover from a Major Electric Outage? FERC Needs to Get the Facts

Steven Naumann's picture
Chief Technical Advisor Protect Our Power

Steven Naumann serves as Chief Technical Advisor of Protect Our Power. He retired from Exelon in 2019 where he was Vice President of Transmission and NERC Policy, Steven provided to the electric...

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  • Jan 5, 2022
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In order to ensure that there are sufficient blackstart resources that will be able to operate in the face of existing and emerging threats, such as extreme weather; cyber, physical and EMP attacks, FERC, the Department of Energy and the industry need to understand the reasons for blackstart resources retirements.  In order to do so, FERC should gather data on (1) how many blackstart resources have been retired or may be contemplating retirement; (2) the reason those resources are retiring; and (3) whether there are different regions, market models or compensation methods where blackstart resources are retiring.  FERC should issue a Notice of Inquiry to ascertain the facts and then determine whether changes are needed to ensure there are sufficient blackstart resources in place to restart the electric grid. 

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 5, 2022

It seems like an uphill battle to get accountability of this now, before the potential major event that may come in the future-- but it couldn't be more important. Thanks for sharing, Steven. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 6, 2022

Steven, in my opinion risks to the U.S. grid are most cost-effectively mitigated by A) prevention, and B) compartmentalization. There should be no event (save for catastrophic/apocalyptic events, and then all bets are off) that can possibly take an entire grid or state offline. To achieve that level of prevention will require investing $billions in hardening existing infrastructure, improving physical security of substations and high-voltage corridors, and building an air wall between all control systems and the internet. It will require installation of "smart breakers" to sense irregularities within microseconds, and stop problems before they can cascade to force a total system shutdown. In effect, we will be creating a grid of interconnected microgrids, each of which is independently operable.

Existing U.S. grids were built from the ground up and served their function well. Now it's time to engineer some solutions from the top down, to adapt to modern technologies and protect from cyberthreats. When that structure is in place we can assess blackstart capability with a much better understanding of what's necessary. Until we have a clean slate with which to work, however, we're only guessing - and courting disaster.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Jan 10, 2022

Seems to me black start in the context of renewable energy is kind of an oxymoron- the assets are intermittent and unreliable. That leads to the ability of conventional power plants to come up to power from scratch. Nuclear plants on their own cannot pull that off. A natural gas plant can pull that off, but that feature needs to be included in the plant’s initial design. The natural gas plants could be used to bring coal plants and nuclear plants back on line. Diesel engines could also be used.

… wait a minute, we are getting rid of fossil fuels.

Christian Payerl's picture
Christian Payerl on Jan 20, 2022

Black start capability is mainly discussed as support to the transmission grid, which is of course correct today. But we see more and more "distribution grids", who want to use DER´s to run the distribution network only with the DER. This is possible, BUT it require fault levels support in these "distribution grids". Synchronous condensers (similar to those in the transmission grid but much smaller in size) can be used at at the distribution network. This helps to secure protection issues, power quality issues as well as supporting black start of these "distribution grids". As a consequence these resources at the distribution level can also play a future roll in a black start support in parts of the network.   

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