PITTSBURGH — Not even a pandemic could stop this innovation.
Pittsburgh International Airport on Wednesday became the first airport in the world to be completely powered by natural gas and solar energy as part of its newly live microgrid.
The first-of-its kind microgrid increases resilience and maximizes public safety and makes PIT one of the most site-hardened airports in the world.
Airports across the country have been exploring ways to increase power resilience and reliability after several high-profile power outages resulted in thousands of cancelled flights and passenger disruptions. As PIT is set to break ground on building the smartest airport in the world through its new terminal project, creating smart power infrastructure is a key step that can serve as a blueprint for others.
“Our region has innovation in its DNA, and the construction of this microgrid reflects the work that has been done at the airport to maximize public safety and sustainability,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “I’m extremely proud that the airport is utilizing nearly 10,000 solar panels as a source of sustainable energy. It, along with the other mix of energy generated at the airport, continues to position this facility as an industry leader. Congratulations to Christina, and the entire team, for their work on this important project.”
The power generated at PIT is the primary supply for the entire airport, including the terminals, airfield, Hyatt hotel and Sunoco. The airport will remain connected to the traditional electrical grid as an option for emergency or backup power if needed. The microgrid will generate power, in part, through onsite natural gas wells and 9,360 solar panels across eight acres.
“Pittsburgh International Airport is now one of the most site-hardened public facilities in the world while at the same time becoming more sustainable. That’s a tribute to the innovative culture of our team, and we hope this project can be a model across the industry,” said Pittsburgh International Airport CEO Christina Cassotis.
The Allegheny County Airport Authority Board of Directors in 2019 awarded Peoples Natural Gas a 20-year contract to build, maintain and operate the microgrid at no cost to the airport. In addition to boosting power resiliency and redundancy, the microgrid will achieve savings on electricity costs for the airport and tenants.
Crews started construction in July 2020 and completed the project on schedule even as the pandemic stalled the aviation industry last year.
“Essential Utilities and Peoples Gas are proud to be an integral part of the airport microgrid project,” said Christopher Franklin, chairman and chief executive officer, Essential Utilities. “We’re demonstrating how new, alternative energies like solar can be integrated with traditional power sources like natural gas. This energy solution provides the airport with a more resilient power supply, as well as reducing its emissions.”
What is a microgrid?
A microgrid is an independent electricity source that can operate autonomously while maintaining a connection to the traditional grid. It will be powered by natural gas drilled on-site by CNX Resources, in addition to gas from the interstate pipeline system and solar generation. The project will offer a more efficient, sustainable and resilient source of energy.
The microgrid will consist of five natural gas-fueled generators and nearly 10,000 solar panels, capable of producing more than 20 megawatts of electricity, the equivalent of powering more than 13,000 residential homes. The airport’s current peak demand is approximately 14 megawatts.
In addition to Peoples, other firms involved in the development of the microgrid included CNX Resources, IMG Energy Solutions, EIS Solar, PJ Dick, LLI Engineering and Duquesne Light Company.
About Allegheny County Airport Authority
Allegheny County Airport Authority, which manages Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) and Allegheny County Airport (AGC), is committed to transforming Pittsburgh’s airports to reflect and serve the community, inspire the industry, and advance the region’s role as a world leader. PIT was named by Fast Company magazine as One of the Most Innovative Companies in the World as well as a finalist in its World Changing Ideas awards, both in 2020. The airport’s Safe Travels initiative commits to the highest in public health and safety standards in the airport industry. The initiative, in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outlines best practices for keeping travelers healthy. For more information, visit www.flypittsburgh.com.
Peoples, an Essential Utilities company, provides natural gas service to approximately 750,000 homes and businesses in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. Peoples is committed to its customers, its employees, the environment, and to the regions it serves. For more information, visit peoples-gas.com and follow Peoples on social media @peoplesnatgas.