Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) on Wednesday became the first airport in the world to be completely powered by a microgrid using photovoltaic solar and natural gas.
Airports across the country have been exploring ways to increase power resilience and reliability after several high-profile power outages resulted in thousands of canceled flights and passenger disruptions. PIT is going to break ground on building a new terminal project, creating smart power infrastructure it hopes can serve as a blueprint for others.
“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 power generated at PIT is the primary supply for the entire airport, including the terminals, airfield, Hyatt hotel and Sunoco gas station. 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.
“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 Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County executive. “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 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 CEO, 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.”
The microgrid will consist of five natural gas-fueled generators and nearly 10,000 solar panels, capable of producing more than 20 MW of electricity. The airport’s current peak demand is approximately 14 MW.
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.
News item from Allegheny County Airport Authority