Market Insights

Black Start Generators: Energy To Restart the Power Grid

June 14, 2023 by Kevin Clemens

When the power grid goes down, a black start system provides the energy to bring it back up again.

Restarting the power grid after it has gone down due to system failure, natural disasters, or cyber or physical attacks is one of the keys to maintaining reliable electrical power service.  

Black start grid modernization

Black start grid modernization. Image used courtesy of NREL 


The trend toward decentralized energy systems has grown in recent years and is expected to continue as we move closer to a net-zero society. Black start generators play a crucial role in starting and maintaining traditional power grids and decentralized energy systems, leading to a significant increase in demand for these systems. 

The global demand for black start generators is expected to expand at a CAGR of 5.5%, with the market expected to reach a value of $3 billion by 2033, according to Future Market Insights


Black Start

The term “black start” refers to restoring all or part of an electrical power grid without relying on electricity from the external transmission network to restart the grid. Black start generators provide initial power backup to power plants during a power blackout, without depending on any external electric source, and provide power to the necessary equipment to restart the system. The term also describes the systems that maintain power in uninterrupted power supplies, such as those used in hospitals or data servers and memory storage centers. 

As electric power grids move toward decentralization, microgrids and renewable energy sources are frequently part of these systems. Energy storage, including batteries and pumped hydro storage, is a requirement for reliable renewable energy from variable sources like solar and wind, and black start generators can be vital for starting and maintaining these energy storage systems.


Smart Starts

The emergence of smart grid technology has revolutionized black start operations. Smart black start generators, enabled by improved communication and coordination with the grid, ensure faster and more effective power restoration during blackouts. This technology has also enhanced energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions by optimizing power output according to demand.

A trend of remote monitoring and control systems has witnessed significant growth in the black start generators market. Remote systems allow real-time monitoring and control of generator performance, leading to increased efficiency and cost savings in operation and maintenance. As technology advances, the trend should continue.

Traditionally, the startup of a coal-fired power plant takes place using electricity provided by an auxiliary diesel-powered generator. The goal is to create an AC voltage that synchronizes the larger generators once they startup and begin to come online. 

Microgrids, which have the advantage of shielding customers from wide-scale outages of large grids, can use energy storage from batteries to provide the black start requirements. As individual microgrids are restored, they can restore larger-scale grid systems.  

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is looking into how inverter-based resources might be used to black-start renewable energy microgrids.  Inverters could be operated in a “grid-forming mode” to produce an appropriate AC waveform for synchronization into the power grid. The use of an inverter, in this case, could be more reliable and less difficult to control compared to other black start systems. 


Black Start Generator Market Drivers

Regional markets, including developing countries like India, China, Brazil, Mexico, and the Czech Republic, are expected to drive significant demand due to power generation deficits compared to demand and increasing industrialization. Developed countries like North America, Europe, and Australia will provide additional market growth, especially in new applications like military and remote power centers. The Middle East and Africa market also offers growth prospects, particularly in the mining industry.

Key market participants in the black start generators market include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Caterpillar Inc., Cummins Inc., General Electric Company, and Aggreko PLC, among others. These companies actively contribute to the market's growth through technological advancements and product innovation.