Electric Power Systems Lab at the Energy GRID Institute.

The University of Pittsburgh aims to modernize the energy infrastructure in Western Pennsylvania and around the country with the Energy Grid Research and Infrastructure Development (GRID) Institute.

Pitt recently announced plans to launch the Energy GRID Institute, an 18,600-square-foot laboratory currently under construction at the Downtown Energy Innovation Center (EIC). The space, which includes four separate specialized labs, will provide a place where researchers from Pitt’s Center for Energy can work with private and public partners to design an efficient, updated power system for Pittsburgh.

“This is really meant to be an applied research activity, so the utilities are bringing the problems,” says Pitt Vice Chancellor for Economic Partnerships Rebecca Bagley, who oversaw development of the project along with Pitt Swanson School of Engineering professor and Center for Energy director, Gregory Reed. “And then the researchers at Pitt, as well as other private sector partners, will all help with the solutions to the utility-driven challenges.”

To help advance these efforts, the Institute will work with the City of Pittsburgh and the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which is part of the US Department of Energy’s national laboratory system.

Among the Energy GRID Institute’s partners are several companies, including area utility provider Duquesne Light and the global power management company Eaton, as well as local nonprofit support from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation. Moving forward, the Institute team will pursue more public-private partnerships in the Pittsburgh region and throughout the US.

Energy Innovation Center. Photo by Pittsburgh Gateways.
Energy Innovation Center. Photo by Pittsburgh Gateways.

The Institute works by addressing issues with Pittsburgh’s energy infrastructure, which, as Bagley points out, goes back to the mid-20th century. Among the most critical focuses are integrating renewable technology, such as solar, wind and micro-hydroelectric, and transitioning from AC-only to more reliable hybrid AC/DC systems. Researchers and partners will also find solutions to problems related to energy operations, regulation and policy.

At an annual board meeting last Friday, Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher highlighted the Energy GRID Institute as an example of the school’s recent strategic efforts to redefine itself, saying its establishment “will firmly position Pittsburgh as a key player—regionally and globally—in the race to modernize our energy infrastructure.”

Bagley believes the Institute’s potential status could serve as an economic driver for the region and as an opportunity for Pitt students to hone their skills by working with faculty researchers and enhance their job capabilities by working side-by-side with partner companies.

“I think this can be a global resource where Pittsburgh, Pitt and the EIC are known for having these grid solutions and being the place to go, which creates a lot of economic activity, a lot of marketing opportunity and a lot of talent attraction,” says Bagley.

Construction on the Energy GRID Institute will see partial completion by fall, but isn’t expected to be fully functioning until early next year.

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.