Believed to be a first for the energy industry, Imperial Irrigation District has successfully demonstrated the emergency black start capability of its state-of-the-art battery energy storage system.

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 transmission network.

On May 10, the district’s new battery energy storage system, which went online in October 2016, successfully supplied the electricity needed to start IID’s 44-megawatt combined-cycle natural gas turbine at the El Centro Generating Station. To stabilize the power plant, the battery energy storage system then converted, by design, to become an energy load consumer.

“This is a major accomplishment in the energy industry,” said Vicken Kasarjian, manager of IID’s Energy Department, who was joined by partners on the battery energy storage project, Coachella Energy Storage Partners, LLC, ZGlobal Inc. and General Electric Energy Connections.

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

In the event of an electric system blackout, IID can utilize the battery to produce electricity to startup its power plants. Once a plant starts up, the battery energy storage system absorbs the energy produced by the plant until grid operators begin restoring customers to the system, said Chris Beltran, IID general superintendent of fossil fuel generation.

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

This functionality “hasn’t been deployed before,” added Mir Ziyad Ali, ZGlobal’s senior systems engineer for the project.

IID’s 33-megawatt, 20-megawatt-hour lithium-ion battery energy storage system, considered to be one of the largest of its kind in the western United States, was developed to provide stability and mitigate power quality issues as renewable energy resources are integrated into the local grid, allowing the district to further diversify its energy portfolio.

“It is essential that we continue to integrate intermittent resources to the electric system and that IID provides its customers reliable service, while maintaining compliance with all applicable North American Electric Reliability Corporation standards,” IID’s Kasarjian added.

In April, survey results released by the Smart Electric Power Alliance ranked IID as No. 1 in the nation for having the most installed energy storage connected to the grid (30 megawatts).