The City of Pittsburgh and NETL signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 2015 that initiated a collaboration to transform the city’s energy system and aging infrastructure by implementing a “grid of microgrids” concept that spanned nine energy districts. The City of Pittsburgh MOU provides an opportunity for NETL to demonstrate how fossil energy (FE) is a part of the clean energy future, and to show how technologies invented at NETL can support the safe and efficient use of energy. From high-efficiency fuel cells for electricity generation and district energy solutions, to the sensors and technologies to monitor energy infrastructure and detect natural gas leaks, NETL is developing the systems that are the future of energy.
Four years into the project, the partnership has made an impact on the City of Pittsburgh with an impressive array of accomplishments. Below is a short summary of the most noteworthy projects and achievements to date.
The City of Pittsburgh MOU project has a significant online presence as a subsection of the larger NETL website. Stakeholders wishing to learn more about the project, find related funding opportunities, read the latest articles about energy innovation in Pittsburgh, and more, will find the website to be a useful resource. The website is updated regularly and includes the following pages:
Pittsburgh’s focus on energy districts is based on the increasing global recognition of the value that district-scale energy systems can bring. Designing systems around the energy needs of a neighborhood or city allows developers to take advantage of local resources, infrastructure, and other regional features. While these systems may require more up-front engineering, they are highly efficient and often more cost-effective than traditional technologies.
Pittsburgh has several existing district energy systems in which a central facility generates steam, hot water, and/or chilled water that is then piped to residential or commercial consumers, just as a utility would provide water or natural gas. These “energy districts” are currently independent, run by different entities, and have diverse characteristics. NETL’s vision is to have a system of interconnected energy districts that work together to provide the City with clean energy in a cost-effective way.
The Energy Districts of Pittsburgh include:
A 200 kW solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) power plant from Fuel Cell Energy (FCE), which is being partially funded by DOE/NETL, was established at Clearway Energy Center in July 2018 and began operation in April 2019, using solely clean natural gas with a goal to run for at least 5,000 hours to quantify long-term degradation as well as systems availability and reliability.
This study focused on 2013 consumption data for the City of Pittsburgh and surrounding regions for natural gas and electricity in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. This consumption data is valuable to foster the development of systems that meet the unique needs of a metropolitan area at the lowest cost, and with the greatest impact. Opportunities for energy usage and emissions reductions were identified, which include home heating energy savings and improving vehicle efficiency through the electrification of light-duty municipal vehicles and city buses.
The Pittsburgh 2013 Energy Baseline brochure was created to highlight the key takeaways of the Pittsburgh 2013 Energy Baseline report. The brochure gives summarizes the residential, commercial, and industrial energy usage; details the findings for GHG emissions sources; and highlights opportunities for energy savings and emission reductions.
NETL conducted a techno-economic study of geothermal energy extraction and use opportunities in the City of Pittsburgh’s Almono District – now renamed Hazelwood Green. The study exclusively focused on Deep Direct-Use (DDU) geothermal energy, which employs lower temperature geothermal resources found at depths exceeding 1,000 meters, and assesses these resources for space heating. This study found that DDU for space heating is more expensive than heating with natural gas at today’s low prices. However, DDU demonstration projects should be considered to help further mature DDU technology, which would make DDU technology an economically viable and a worthy option to consider over much of the Eastern United States.
In 2018, NETL published a brochure that detailed the most important achievements the NETL and City of Pittsburgh partnership achieved in 2017, including completing a techno-economic study of geothermal energy extraction and use opportunities at Hazelwood Green, pursuing a $50 million Smart City Challenge grant, and the collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh (an MOU partner) and the Danish Energy Ministry.
The Partnership between NETL and the City of Pittsburgh received two awards from the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) for its success cementing Pittsburgh as a global leader in next generation energy planning and development. NETL and Pittsburgh received the 2018 FLC Award from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Awards in the State and Local Economic Development category and the 2019 FLC National Award in the State and Local Economic Development category.
The FLC awards are considered high-level awards amongst the National Laboratories. The State and Local Economic Development Award recognizes successful initiatives that involve partnership between state or local economic development groups and federal laboratories for economic benefit. The Partnership Between NETL and the City of Pittsburgh’s winning nomination spoke to its efforts in establishing Pittsburgh as a “Clean Energy City of the Future”, the utilization of microgrid technology, funding of the solid oxide fuel cell power plant on the North Side of Pittsburgh, studies conducted at Hazelwood Green for DDU geothermal energy options, and more.
NETL’s City of Pittsburgh MOU team was also nominated for the 2019 Pittsburgh Federal Executive Board’s Excellence in Government Awards in the Outstanding Team category.
In March 2018, the University of Pittsburgh and the Danish energy ministry signed an agreement to develop plans for implementing district energy infrastructure and smart city technologies in Pittsburgh. The partnership will leverage the Danish expertise in providing affordable, sustainable energy using integrated district energy systems with a focus on providing sustainable resources to underprivileged communities. NETL representatives helped discuss new research and approaches for helping Pittsburgh and Denmark in efforts to become global leaders in energy innovation and urban development.
NETL keeps an active list of funding opportunity announcements (FOA) that are related to the NETL and City of Pittsburgh Partnership efforts on the City of Pittsburgh MOU website. On the website, project stakeholders can find links to apply for FOAs and a downloadable PDF document that provides detailed descriptions of each FOA. The FOA links and FOA descriptions both contain open opportunities and archived opportunities.
NETL was an active partner in supporting Pittsburgh’s pursuit of a $50 million Smart City Challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to improve regional transportation. Plans call for development of a full range of diverse transportation elements that improve air quality, develop new manufacturing related to smart traffic signals and tracking devices, and help to facilitate electric vehicle use. Powering of the city’s electric vehicles would be accomplished through locally sourced distributed energy that would be developed under the MOU. The DOT announced that Columbus, Ohio won the Smart City Challenge in July 2016, however, on October 11, 2016, Pittsburgh received notice that it would receive a $10.9 million grant under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). This grant is to be used to create “smart spines” that collect data through a network of sensors to help balance and move traffic through the city.
The DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) provided prize money through the Solar in Your Community Challenge to low-to-moderate income communities for developing community-based solar projects that have a high potential for replication. NETL investigated opportunities and sought funding and technical assistance for these projects in collaboration with several nongovernmental organizations, the City of Pittsburgh, and other MOU partners.
NETL participates in an ongoing effort titled Finding Pennsylvania’s Solar Future being led by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), in collaboration with key stakeholders, with the goal of developing a detailed plan that would increase the Commonwealth’s electricity generation from solar energy to at least 10 percent by the year 2030. PADEP received a $550,000 grant from the DOE/EERE SunShot program to support the effort.
NETL connected the City of Pittsburgh to the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Technical Assistance Partnership (TAP). TAP toured and assessed three of the City’s existing combined heat and power/district heating resources: Duquesne University’s Cogeneration Plant, Clearway Energy’s North Shore Cogeneration Plant, and the Pittsburgh Allegheny County Thermal (PACT) plant which provides steam to downtown Pittsburgh. The CHP TAP team’s initial analysis from the spring of 2016 was that the City of Pittsburgh had significant opportunity to utilize existing and planned CHP for increasing the resiliency of the City’s power grid, but that economic factors (such as the current low cost of electricity) could be a challenge to expanding CHP in the City.
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) releases an annual report called The City Energy Efficiency Scorecard that ranks 51 large US cities on their efforts to save energy in five key areas. In 2017, Pittsburgh ranked 17th, moving up three positions since 2015. Pittsburgh earned 53 out of 100 points, which is 12 points more than 2015.