Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto this summer pledged that the Steel City would transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 and to back it up he joined the Mayors for 100 percent Clean Energy, a coalition that supports the Paris climate agreement.
“Cities can help lead the transition away from dirty fuels to renewable energy, but it will require boldness
and ambition to get it done,” Peduto said.
It is a mantra Pittsburgh has embedded in its partnership strategy across public and private stakeholders invested in the city’s future.
Grant Ervin, chief resilience officer for the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Innovation and Performance and assistant director of city planning, told Daily Energy Insider that being selected last year as one of seven city finalists in the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Smart City Challenge was a turning point.
Being selected “helped us galvanize our ongoing work over the last few years, to start to advance planning and deployment of projects across the city’s platforms—specifically energy and transportation—and thirdly, to develop partnerships with local utilities, governments, universities, and others to lead us into uncharted territory,” Ervin said last week.
Partnerships were key to developing SmartPGH, the title of Pittsburgh’s overall blueprint submitted for DOT’s Smart City Challenge that set out how the city would improve its transportation infrastructure.
“Our critical transportation infrastructure can no longer be viewed as just a means of travel. It must evolve into a resilient network that connects people to opportunity and accelerates innovation in energy supply and distribution, storm water management, and data-driven decision-making,” according to the SmartPGH.
The plan is overseen by the SmartPGH Consortium, which modeled its work on coordination efforts led by the city’s Department of Public Works that it extended to a broader set of stakeholders.
To strategize on the SmartPGH, the consortium includes corporate partners—such as Duquesne Light Co. (DLC), NRG Energy and Siemens—universities (Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University), and leaders from local businesses and nonprofit organizations, as well as leaders from government, public authorities, community-based organizations and philanthropy, all responsible for infrastructure planning and capital coordination.
Mayor Peduto is chairman of the multi-sector oversight group, which also has a stated vision to identify opportunities to leverage existing infrastructure and technology investments and help develop a regulatory framework “that encourages innovation and shared prosperity.”
LED streetlight partnership
One of the collaborative SmartPGH projects that the City of Pittsburgh and the SmartPGH Consortium members took on with partners DLC, the state DOT and Carnegie Mellon was a roughly $12.4 million contract to convert some 36,365 streetlights to LED technology.
“These types of partnership conversations are the result of us setting the collaboration table and bringing everyone to it,” Ervin explained.
In addition to providing substantial energy savings of 60 percent (or about $650,000 a year), the streetlights LED conversion project also will provide a platform to support other SmartPGH initiatives.
“We’ve been working with the city on technology deployment around data and deploying sensors all around the city that collect data, and working on how to collect data and use it for actionable information to make decisions for how to operate the city sustainably, run it economically and improve safety for citizens,” Rich Riazzi, president and CEO of DLC, told Daily Energy Insider.
Eventually, every city streetlight could have sensors for monitoring air quality, detecting available parking spaces or the need to empty trash—“all providing data through one communication network,” Riazzi said.
The wireless sensors will serve as WiFi hotspots that offer other possible applications, as well, like real-time traffic counts, gunshot detection, noise monitoring and dynamic advertising capabilities, while also improving safety, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists, according to the SmartPGH plan.
“This type of collaboration is rare among cities of our scale and Duquesne Light and our other partners have been right there with us on activating new technologies,” said Ervin, adding that the streetlight conversion project is scheduled to be completed in February 2018.
Another piece of the SmartPGH plan to enhance urban transportation involves team work around electric vehicles (EVs).
As Pittsburgh’s transportation and information infrastructure is modernized, the SmartPGH plan calls for the deployment of a suite of energy applications along Second Avenue that turn it into a clean energy transportation corridor.
Dubbed the Electric Avenue project, the approximately $12 million initiative includes the purchase of a new public EV fleet to help Pittsburgh reduce its transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) 50 percent by 2030.
“Electric vehicles are an area of increased attention for us,” Ervin said. “We initially had zero interest because we had no idea of the value they carried.”
With almost 20 percent of Pittsburgh’s GHGs coming from transportation, Ervin said the city is increasing the availability of EV charging stations and hastening its turnover of gas- and diesel-fueled vehicles in the public fleet to EVs powered by 100 percent renewable energy.
Two electric Ford Focuses are now in use, two electric Chevrolet Bolts will join the city’s fleet in the fall and through a state Department of Environmental Protection program another 10 EVs could be delivered by late 2017.
The city maintains a five-year EV acquisition plan that sets aside a $5 million budget to purchase a total of 10 electric motorcycles, 81 electric sedans, 14 electric medium-duty SUVs and 107 charging stations. The plan will be updated annually, according to the SmartPGH.
Pittsburgh Budget Director Jennifer Presutti told the City Council in June that portable EV charging stations are also being considered as an investment.
Through another state grant, Allegheny City Electric finished work on its city contract to equip a large municipally owned surface parking lot on Second Avenue with a 100-kilowatt solar canopy tied into the local district energy microgrid. The new EV fleet will use the grid-to-vehicle charging infrastructure—which includes four EV charging stations—when they’re parked at the city-owned lot.
Partners on this project include SmartPGH Consortium members, the city, the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, DLC, the Green Building Alliance, the Vulcan Foundation and Pittsburgh University’s Center for Energy.
For the utility’s part, Riazzi said the project leverages DLC’s wireless communication technologies built on an IPv6 protocol to run the Second Avenue site’s charging stations, LED lighting and smart utility meters.
It’s a strategy that could show project partners how an IPv6 network also might provide Pittsburgh with an Internet of Things (IoT) network platform, which could support an expanding array of city services and monitoring capabilities to improve energy efficiency, water conservation and transportation and traffic management.
“There’s a lot of collective thinking, R&D, and investment in this area,” Riazzi said. “It’s really exciting.”
Pittsburgh is also working to expand charging and renewable generation opportunities at all city-owned garages and lots, as well as those owned by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh.
“We just retrofitted one garage and saved $60,000 that will be reinvested in more EV charging stations,” Ervin said.
Renewable energy partnerships
Completed elements of the SmartPGH plan will enable Pittsburgh’s creation of a grid of microgrids, a network of microgrids that would allow the city’s upgraded transportation corridors, EVs, advanced technology systems and local energy systems to communicate using automated software and trade off on energy use.
The theory is that each microgrid making up the grid of microgrids could operate on a solo basis serving its energy customers, or work together with other microgrids on the network to reconfigure resources and maximize efficiencies.
Then, in the event of a district-wide power outage, each microgrid could separate from the grid and from every other microgrid in order to protect systems, increase reliability and resiliency, and maintain power for residents and businesses.
Specifically, the city is expanding its district energy partnership with the University of Pittsburgh, DLC and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to build this network of microgrids that not only maximizes the efficiency of DLC’s local system, but also shifts Pittsburgh’s grid mix toward renewables, speeds its conversion to EVs and reduces transportation GHGs.
Riazzi said DLC and Pittsburgh partnered on a pilot project to test and tease out any technical and regulatory challenges associated with running a microgrid at a specially designed northside DLC complex.
The microgrid plan is in the design phase now and the partners have submitted a cost-recovery plan to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for regulatory approval, Riazzi said. “We hope to kick off in 2018, but in dealing with regulatory authorities the date could change.”
The SmartPGH renewables plan has catapulted the city to the front of the clean energy line, said Gregory Unruh, the Arison Professor of Values Leadership at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., who thinks that Pittsburgh’s new decentralized system will be cleaner, greener and more resilient.
“Instead of rebuilding the old centralized system, the smart city project moves toward an intelligent series of district-scale microgrids that interconnect energy generation, transportation, and communications to provide high-tech infrastructure for universities, health care campuses, data centers, communities, and even a city-owned [EV] fleet,” Unruh recently summarized in the Harvard Business Review.
Pittsburgh’s pioneering renewable energy system plan is already driving job growth and attracting new companies seeking highly reliable energy.
The city employs 13,000 people in renewable energy and energy efficiency, compared to the roughly 5,300 people working in the iron and steel sector and startups are sprouting near the local university research labs.
Bigger names are in Pittsburgh now, too, like Google, which established a Pittsburgh campus, and Uber, which chose the city as the location for its new Advanced Technologies Center from where it will launch a self-driving cars initiative.
At the same time, the city’s transit improvements and efforts with local companies to create microgrid energy generation on the Lower Hill as part of the Uptown Eco-Innovation District project are expected to connect low- and moderate-income neighborhoods to the job centers in downtown and Oakland.
It’s the partnerships that make the difference, said Riazzi.
“An open, collaborative process involves a number of stakeholders. Have a broad and open process. It’s really critical to doing this in the most efficient way,” he advised.
With fall fast approaching, Ervin said there’s a lot on the city’s agenda, including:
“For the future, there’s a lot of continuing innovation; a lot of opportunities for everyone to get around the table, solve problems and find collective solutions,” Ervin said. “We’re all working together to help build a stronger community.”
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