Pittsburgh Plans Grid of Microgrids; Wins Smart City Money

Oct. 17, 2016
Pittsburgh’s smart city project, one that includes a grid of microgrids, last week won an $11 million grant from the Department of Transportation.

Pittsburgh’s smart city project, one that includes a grid of microgrids, last week won an $11 million grant from the Department of Transportation for certain transportation features of the plan.

The Pennsylvania city plans to create spines throughout the city that interconnect smart energy, transportation and communications. A goal is to improve air quality and traffic flow.

The plan includes microgrids in and around the city that will work together and incorporate existing district energy systems. However, the DOT funding is slated solely for the transportation aspects of the plan.

The grid of microgrids is designed to serve hospitals, universities, data centers and critical infrastructure. The city hopes to create “inter-relations between these systems, reinforcing grid security, providing redundancies and creating business continuity.” This aspect of the project will begin with four microgrids in Pittsburgh Downtown, Uptown, Oakland and Northside neighborhoods. Later the city plans to add microgrids in its Hazelwood and Lower Hill District neighborhoods.

Partners in the microgrid project include the City of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh, the Department of Energy, Duquesne Light, People’s Natural Gas and NRG Energy.

The grid of microgrids is a futuristic concept where microgrids act together. They communicate and automatically configure to share resources and maximize efficiencies. But if a disturbance occurs – such as power outage on the central grid – they island from the grid, and each other, to protect their systems and supply local customers with electricity. Some microgrid advocates see the U.S. grid eventually becoming largely a grid of microgrids with the central grid acting as a back-up system.

From Pittsburgh proposal, “Beyond Traffic: The Smart City Challenge”

In addition to its grid of microgrids, Pittsburgh is planning a direct current microgrid to charge a city-owned electric vehicle fleet.  (The city’s mayor has set up a long-term capital plan to buy the vehicles.)

The city intends to put the charging stations in a public parking lot downtown with a solar canopy connected to a microgrid. High resolution data logging will help the city make use of the vehicle batteries as a grid resource. The city also will use the data to monitor and study use of the fleet for transportation.

Pittsburgh was one of several communities that won DOT smart city money last week. Others included San Francisco $11 million, Houston $9 million, Denver $6 million, Marysville, Ohio $6 million and Los Angeles $3 million. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in New York won $8 million.

The DOT awarded the funds through two of its initiatives: the Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment (ATCMTD) program run by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Mobility on Demand (MOD) Sandbox program overseen by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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