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First of its kind tender sees Black Start contracts awarded in South West & Midlands

National Grid ESO has announced contracts with six providers for Black Start services in the South West and Midlands, the result of a new approach and tender process for awarding such contracts.

The six contracts, five of which are new, total £84 million with each bid offering commercial benefits compared to other bidders and Black Start options.

The South West and Midlands tender was launched in February 2019 and these new agreements, which will run instead of bilateral agreements, will provide services from July 2022 for five years, with an incentive to commence earlier if possible and at the discretion of the ESO.

What is Black Start?

As the system operator it’s our job to be prepared for the most extraordinary of scenarios including a nationwide power cut. We’ve never had one in Great Britain but – however unlikely – is something we’re ready and regularly reviewing our plans for.

Those plans form what we call our Black Start strategy, which gives us the ability to fire up Britain’s electricity system after a total blackout. Black Start uses auxiliary generators to kick-start bigger ones – historically gas and coal plants – creating ‘islands’ of power which connect together on the main transmission network to gradually restore the grid.

Find out more about Black Start here

What’s the new approach to awarding contracts?

Historically, generators that could kick-start the system, typically coal and gas fired power stations, had individual contracts with the ESO to provide these services. However, the nature of electricity generation is changing, with traditional power stations closing and growth in smaller, Distributed Energy Resources (DER). This new approach to Black Start contracts, a competitive tender process, is aimed at broadening the number of generators able to provide services, reducing the dependence on a reducing supply which could lead to inadequate cover and inefficient contracts.

What’s the bigger picture?

Last year we announced our ambition to be able to operate the electricity system at zero-carbon by 2025. This means developing new tools, services and markets that will help to keep the grid in balance – such as this new competitive tendering approach for Black Start.

Alongside rethinking how we award contracts we are also progressing our Distributed Re-start project. A world first initiative exploring how distributed energy resources (DER) such as solar, wind and hydro, can be used to restore power to the transmission network in the unlikely event of a blackout. The results of this project are due in March 2022 and we hope to use the learnings and outcomes in future tenders.

Find out more about our Distributed Re-start project here

In addition, we are working with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on the development of an industry wide restoration standard. This aims to establish a minimum restoration capability for all GB zones. Whilst not currently in force, recognition of its likely implementation is considered in the context of this tender, and that of the existing GB-wide planning

Commenting on the tenders, David Wildash, Market Services Senior Manager at National Grid ESO said:

Our control room engineers have never had to implement our national Black Start procedures but nevertheless it’s a hugely important backup plan and we’re pleased to be announcing this new suite of contracts.

It’s really exciting to see the contract process changing and a competitive tender being introduced.

These new agreements will widen the pool of generators who can help provide the service and offer cost efficiencies too.”