Pittsburgh International Airport will soon be powered by their own personal grid system. The Allegheny County Airport Authority has announced their plans to develop a microgrid which will be the main power source for the airport and associated buildings.
The project comes from a partnership between the Airport Authority and Pittsburgh’s Peoples Natural Gas, who will develop and operate the system, which is scheduled to be online by the summer of 2021. The grid will be powered by two energy sources, natural gas and solar power, both of which will be harvested on airport grounds. Natural gas generators will be fueled by gas that is already being extracted on leased airport land, and a new solar farm of around 7,800 solar panels will be built. The combination will generate enough power to keep the airport operating normally, while saving an estimated $500,000 within the first year of operation. The airport will not be totally shut off from the traditional grid, as it will still have access to that power in the event of an emergency or microgrid failure.
So, what is a microgrid? In essence, it is the same thing as the traditional electrical grid system that powers our homes, businesses, and offices, but scaled down to only service one collection of buildings, not a wide region. That is, once the grid is operational, the airport will be powered internally, thus reducing the risk of emergency given a failure of the traditional grid system. The airport will not be totally shut off from the traditional grid, as it will still have access to that power in the event of an emergency or microgrid failure.
While solar panels can be located virtually anywhere, Pittsburgh International has a unique opportunity to further benefit from the oil and gas operations that has been ongoing for nearly a decade. O&G first came to the airport in 2013, when 9,200 acres of land were leased to Consol Energy with the plan of building six hydraulic fracturing well pads to access the Marcellus shale below the airport. Most recently, the Airport Authority and Consol reached another agreement to expand drilling operations in 2016, in which the airport received a $46 million up-front payment, and an 18 percent royalty fee for the natural gas extracted.
Microgrids are becoming a much more common sight across the globe. While daunting, these types of grid systems provide many benefits both environmentally and economically, while protecting vulnerable infrastructure, such as airports, from disaster given power shortages or outages.