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California battery’s black start capability hailed as ‘major accomplishment in the energy industry’

Image: Imperial Irrigation District Facebook page.

A utility in Southern California has successfully demonstrated the use of a battery energy storage system to provide a ‘black start’, firing up a combined cycle gas turbine from an idle state.

The utility Imperial Irrigation District (IID) announced news of the successful demonstration, which it said took place last week. IID was ranked as the utility to deploy the most energy storage in the US during 2016 by trade group the Smart Electric Power Association (SEPA) with 30MW installed, 

Black starting is the restoration of power functions to an electric power generator, network or grid without having to call on external transmission lines. The 33MW / 20MWh lithium-ion battery energy storage system (BESS), which in its everyday use provides grid stability and helps smooth the output from local renewable power sources, was used on 10 May to kick-start an IID 44MW combined cycle natural gas turbine, located at El Centro Generating Station in Imperial Valley, California.

The ability of batteries to provide this much-needed grid function has long been discussed. Improving the efficiency of existing thermal generators could be a quick way to deploy batteries and boost decarbonisation and make power networks more flexible.

Networks would otherwise be dependent on fossil fuel generators running continuously or would have to wait for them to ramp up. Imperial Irrigation District manager for its energy department, Vicken Kasarjian, hailed the black start as a “major accomplishment in the energy industry”.

“The battery energy storage system did not only provide startup power, but converted it, allowing the generator to achieve synchronisation. To our knowledge, this is the first time in history that a battery energy storage system black-started a generator in an operational situation,” Kasarjian said.

Claim of world first could be jumping the gun

However, the ‘world first’ tag might be disputed. In January, Energy-Storage.News reported that a 5MW utility-scale battery park in Germany built by Younicos using battery cells from Samsung SDI was the first to show that it could quickly restore the local grid in the instance of a disruption. Younicos founder Clemens Triebel said at the time that the key to unlocking the potential of energy storage to perform such functions was in “smart software”.

If IID’s local electric system suffers a blackout, the batteries can be used by the utility to start up power plants. Then, when those plants start up, the BESS absorbs the energy they produce until customers on other ‘spokes’ of the energy network can be re-connected to their supply from the grid.

The IID project was executed by US-headquartered multinational GE (General Electric), partnered with engineering firm Z Global and developer Coachella Energy Storage Partners, as Energy-Storage.News reported back in August 2015.

“We brought together our unique knowledge of power plants, grids and energy storage systems to develop this application to increase grid resiliency,” GE Energy Connection’s general manager for digital grids, Mirko Molinari said.

“This success is an essential next step in increasing the resiliency of IID’s grid to recover from power outages to ensure district customers have the electricity they require every day.”