Two years in, the microgrid at Pittsburgh International Airport has saved millions of dollars in electricity costs, boosted resiliency and decreased carbon output, drawing the attention of the aviation industry.
Driving the news: “I’m very happy with where we are. The microgrid has been very reliable,” said Tom Woodrow, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Intelligent Infrastructure. “It saved us a lot of money, and it’s certainly helping us to meet our sustainability goals—providing both an economic and environmental benefit while increasing resiliency.”
- First unveiled in July 2021, the microgrid is the first in the world to completely power a major airport through on-site natural gas and nearly 10,000 solar panels. The microgrid allows PIT to be self-sufficient for power generation and resistant to outages on the traditional grid.
- PIT’s microgrid can produce up to 23 megawatts between its five natural gas-fired generators and solar panels. The solar array is built atop a closed landfill, repurposing land that is otherwise unsuitable for development initiatives and underscoring the airport’s sustainability goals.
- PIT’s microgrid has saved approximately $1 million annually in utility costs while reducing carbon emissions by more than 6 million pounds per year.
Future of the industry: Other airports are developing similar projects for themselves.
- A team from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport visited PIT for a tour and is in the early stages of planning a power generation and resiliency strategy.
- Officials at John F. Kennedy International Airport announced in January the future New Terminal One will be powered by more than 13,000 solar panels as well as natural gas fuel cells as part of its 11.3-megawatt microgrid.
- “I’m really pleased to see the idea of microgrids taking hold at airports in the U.S. It’s a way to provide more sustainable energy and more resilient power, which is crucial for 24/7 operations at airports,” Woodrow said. “We’ve hosted visits and calls from several other airports looking to build something similar.”
More solar on the horizon: Woodrow said the airport is planning to double the number of solar panels as part of its solar field expansion.
- What is a microgrid? A microgrid is an electricity source that can operate autonomously while maintaining a connection to the traditional grid. It is powered by natural gas drilled by CNX Resources, in addition to gas from the interstate pipeline system and solar generation.
- IMG Energy Solutions partnered with Peoples Gas and the Allegheny County Airport Authority as owner and operator of the solar array and operator of the natural gas generators. The microgrid was built at no cost to the airport.
- “IMG Energy Solutions is excited to celebrate this second-year milestone with the PIT team,” said Mike Brady, CEO of IMG. “The system continues to deliver on the commitment of a resilient, clean and cost effective microgrid energy solution and we’re grateful for the opportunity to provide sustainable value as both an owner of the solar array and designer and operator of the natural gas-fired generators.”
- PIT’s microgrid has gotten its share of attention and won multiple awards for its innovation and sustainability. Among them: Forbes magazine called PIT’s microgrid “tough to duplicate,” and it has been recognized with the Innovation Award from Airports Council International and Fast Company Magazine’s World Changing Idea award.