Case Study: Modernization of Black Start Power Unit Drastically Increases Reliability

by | Jul 25, 2021 | Control & Safety Systems, Digital Transformation, Power Generation, Reliability

Anne Turkowski

Marketing Communications Strategy Manager

Scientists have warned for decades that climate change can trigger more frequent and intense weather-related events, such as heatwaves and hurricanes which could cause disruptions to power generation and supply. One major U.S. utility digitally transformed a designated black start gas turbine generator to ensure reliable restoration of their electric system in the event of a widespread outage or full loss of power.

A Summer of Elevated Risk

Currently, triple-digit temperatures in the Western United States are causing severe drought and raging wildfires. And there seems to be no relief in sight: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) anticipates higher-than-average temperatures throughout the U.S. this summer, as well as a 60% chance of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) 2021 summer reliability assessment warns that parts of North America are at elevated or high risk of energy shortfalls this summer due to above-normal peak temperatures.

Texas, New England, MISO, and parts of the West are at an “elevated risk” of energy emergencies; California is in the high-risk category, as it relies on large energy imports during peak demand scenarios and when solar resource output retreats in the evening hours.

The effects of high temperatures, severe weather events and the growth of variable renewable energy resources that are highly reliant on weather places added stress on the power network, challenging grid stability and reliability.

Utilities and system operators need integrated emergency preparedness plans to mitigate these challenges. Black start units are an integral part of those plans, playing a key role in quickly restoring systems in the event of widespread power outages.

The Importance of Black Start Unit Reliability

Most nations require black start capability. In the U.S., every NERC region must have a black start plan with designated power generators that provide black start services. These plants are subject to annual testing to ensure compliance with black start reliability requirements.

A black start resource is one or more generating units and associated equipment that can be started without support from the bulk power system in the event of a major system collapse or system-wide blackout. It is designed to remain energized without connection to the system.

The chosen black start units must be available, at any given time, to reliably startup. The dependable fast start capability of simple cycle gas turbine generators makes them a desirable black start option.

 Modernization Case Study

One major U.S utility in a high-risk region was experiencing frequent failed starts and trips of its black start units. Equipment obsolescence was drastically reducing unit reliability, placing the utility’s black start capability in jeopardy. The utility operations and maintenance manager stated:

“Keeping the lights on for our customers is our top priority. A reliable black start system is a critical part of our emergency preparedness plan.”

To address significant reliability issues, the utility selected Emerson to digitally transform the aging electrical, mechanical and automation systems for two of its natural gas-fueled black start units.

Installation of an Ovation™ gas turbine control system with integrated condition monitoring and remote capabilities eliminated the obsolescence issues and immediately increased unit reliability.

The utility quickly realized numerous benefits, such as reducing the units’ startup time by 80% and saving $110,000 annually in O&M costs.

“The new Ovation gas turbine control solution is a vital tool for powering up our fleet of generators to support the energy needs of a major U.S. city and its surrounding region after a partial or full blackout event.”

Read the full case study to discover more about how Emerson software and technologies helped a utility increase the reliability of its black start units, which is a critical part of its emergency preparedness plan.

Get additional insight from a LinkedIn article by Bob Yeager, president of Emerson’s power and water solutions business, into the future of power and emergency preparedness to keep the lights on.

Learn more about how Emerson’s software and technologies for the power industry help to create a more stable, reliable grid.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.