Success Story

NETL Helping Create Pittsburgh’s Energy Future Today

NETL City of Pittsburgh

Ever since 18th-century entrepreneurs chiseled exposed chunks of coal from the cliffs overlooking Fort Pitt at the confluence of three great American rivers, the business of providing safe, efficient, and affordable energy has been an engine for progress for what would become the City of Pittsburgh.

A few months before Pittsburgh celebrated its bicentennial year of 2016, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City to advance energy efficiency and reliability innovations that establish the city as a global leader in clean energy and transportation planning, modeling, and implementation.

Once “the smoky city,” Pittsburgh’s renaissance created a new technology-based backbone of industries that reshaped the city’s image, physical appearance, and outlook for the future. The newest effort will improve its carbon emissions, energy efficiency, power generation and distribution, and transportation. NETL, a Department of Energy National Laboratory specializing in clean energy research, is lending the city its expertise, innovations, and advice for moving toward these goals.

Teaming with NETL and the City are two of the City’s premier universities, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, along with Duquesne Light Company, Peoples Natural Gas, NRG Energy, several of the region’s philanthropic foundations, and local community organizations.  Under the MOU NETL is working with this partnership to help Pittsburgh:

  • Build upon the city’s existing electrical distribution grid and district energy systems to create a “network of microgrids” that adapts and connects distributed energy resources with customers to increase resiliency, reduce carbon footprint, and improve efficiency
  • Accelerate adoption of advanced distributed energy resources (DER)—microturbines, direct current power delivery, demand-response, energy efficiency, energy storage, photovoltaic (PV) solar, and wind turbines
  • Promote advanced, smart and socially responsible transportation infrastructure powered by locally generated clean energy
  • Support workforce development and job skill training

This effort is part of growing movement to modernize and secure the U.S. electric power grid.  For more than 140 years, the nation’s electric grid consisted of large, centralized power generation coupled with long-distance transmission lines and local distribution wires in which power flowed in one direction from generator to consumer.  Today, additional DER technologies are being installed instead of building new power plants or transmission systems. As a result, consumers become “prosumers”—consumers and producers of electricity.  Many DERs are renewable-based with zero greenhouse gas emissions.  In addition, the technologies help to harden the grid to natural disasters and cyber security threats.

The partnership provides NETL the opportunity to showcase advanced fossil energy based DERs.  For example, solid oxide fuel cells—an NETL-supported technology being developed by Fuel Cell Corporation— converts natural gas directly into electricity without combustion.  A 400 kW SOFC unit will be installed and tested for 5000 hours on one of the City’s district energy facilities in 2018.

NETL will continue to partner with the City to help make Pittsburgh a Clean Energy City of the Future while fulfilling the Laboratory’s mission to discover, integrate, and mature technology solutions enhancing the nation’s energy foundation and protect the environment for future generations.