Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pitt, Duquesne Light Embark on New Grid Design

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pitt, Duquesne Light Embark on New Grid Design

Article excerpt

For more than a century, the foundation of the electric grid has gone largely unchanged: Centrally located power plants generate an abundance of electricity that flows to entire regions of people, spiderwebbing across the landscape on transmission and distribution lines to reach each consumer.

Duquesne Light Co. on Monday took a step toward disrupting that traditional design, announcing a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh to experiment with new technology that can better accommodate alternative and renewable energy, including solar and wind.

The Downtown electric utility, with 500,000 customers throughout Allegheny and Beaver counties, will seek the help of students from Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering to construct a microgrid at its Woods Run Facility along the North Shore, CEO Rich Riazzi told an electric industry conference at the University Club in Oakland.

Mr. Riazzi said utility officials reflected on their mission to provide options to customers, and the growing demand for renewable energy was difficult to ignore.

"It's our belief that our customers expect a grid that's going to give them maximum flexibility," Mr. Riazzi said. This includes "the flexibility to put a solar panel on the roof, put battery storage in their garage or charge an electric vehicle - and have all that technology work together."

Duquesne Light will also provide $500,000 over multiple years to help fund research at Pitt, where engineering students in the Electric Power Systems Laboratory and the Electric Power Program have been studying ways to develop the smaller, more manageable grid systems that could be supplied by solar panels or smaller wind turbines and natural gas generators.

Mr. Riazzi said the microgrid at Woods Run, slated for completion sometime in 2017, serve as a real-world laboratory for students.

From 2010 to 2020, Mr. Riazzi added, Duquesne Light plans to spend $2.6 billion in infrastructure and technology upgrades, providing the utility an opportunity to mull its future distribution system.

"The grid of the past was focused on the one-way flow of electricity from a central power plant to the customer," he said. …

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