- Construction is now underway on a microgrid for Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), which is expected to completely power the airport by summer 2021. It will be the first major U.S. airport powered by a microgrid.
- The microgrid of five natural gas-fired generators and nearly 7,800 solar panels is expected to produce a total of 23 megawatts of energy, with 20 megawatts of that coming from the natural gas. It will be located on an eight-acre site near the airport and is expected to produce enough energy to power the equivalent of 13,000 homes.
- Airport officials said the new microgrid, which will become its primary power source, will help avoid the kinds of power outages that have "wreaked havoc" at other airports and save money on electrical costs. The airport will remain connected to the traditional electric grid for backup or emergency power if necessary.
Currently, PIT officials said its peak power demand is around 14 megawatts, so this new microgrid adds significant capacity, which will be key as the airport undergoes its Terminal Modernization Program to improve safety and resiliency. The airport microgrid will also power hangars and maintenance facilities and the airfield as well as the nearby Hyatt hotel and Sunoco gas station.
This microgrid initiative comes as PIT looks to flex its muscles as a hub of innovation. On the back of signing a memorandum of understanding with Carnegie Mellon University's Metro21: Smart Cities Institute pledging to partner on new projects for the aviation industry, the airport became the first to deploy germ-killing robots in a bid to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).
Pittsburgh airport officials pointed to crippling power outages at peers like Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport near Washington, DC and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta as reasons why a microgrid is necessary. Those outages and others resulted in hundreds of delayed flights and other inconveniences for passengers in the terminals, as well as cost the airlines millions of dollars in lost revenue. Building a microgrid should reduce the chance of those kinds of outages, local leaders said, and with a connection to the regular grid to be maintained, it means there are redundancies in place.
Microgrids can play a key role in mitigating wildfires, with the energy storage market for microgrids expected to exceed $40 billion by 2030, according to experts. They are also seen as a way to support a green and resilient recovery from the coronavirus crisis.