Energy GRID Institute to Help Modernize U.S. Energy Infrastructure

Issue Date: 
July 11, 2016

The University of Pittsburgh is launching the Energy Grid Research and Infrastructure Development (GRID) Institute, an entity that will bring together utility, industry, government, and foundation partners to modernize the nation’s energy infrastructure.

Gregory Reed, a Pitt professor of electrical and computer engineering, with students in Benedum Hall’s Electric Power Systems Lab.

Grounded in research from Pitt’s Center for Energy, the institute will leverage the University’s public and private partnerships with new laboratory space at the Energy Innovation Center in the city’s Hill District.

The development comes as the U.S. power-and-energy infrastructure is at a crossroads. Aging power systems are faced with the challenge of integrating distributed and renewable energy resources, such as a solar rooftop on a home or a small-scale power grid that can operate independently from an area’s main electrical grid. This rapidly evolving environment affects grid technologies, systems, designs, operations, and regulation, and influences markets and policy.  

The institute’s inaugural partners include Duquesne Light, Eaton, the Electric Power Research Institute, Dominion Virginia Power, FirstEnergy, Emerson, PITT OHIO, Sargent Electric Company, Siemens, and Universal Electric Corp. Nonprofit organizations, including the Henry L. Hillman Foundation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation, are also supporting the work of GRID. 

The institute is coordinating closely with the City of Pittsburgh and the National Energy Technology Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, with an agreement aimed at designing a 21st century energy infrastructure for Pittsburgh. The institute’s leadership team is also exploring additional public-private partnerships in the Pittsburgh region and throughout the United States.

“Considering the expansive and somewhat daunting goal—to modernize the nation’s electric power grid and energy infrastructure—it’s vital that research institutions such as Pitt partner with the utility industry and the community to find solutions addressing security, resiliency, and reliability,” Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said. “The Energy GRID Institute will serve as the nexus for collaborative research that encourages economic growth and job creation, and enhances our incubator, start-up, and commercialization potential.”

Groundwork for the institute was developed under the leadership of Gregory Reed, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Rebecca Bagley, Pitt vice chancellor for economic partnerships. Reed is also director of Pitt’s Center for Energy in the Swanson School and director of the school’s Electric Power Systems Lab. 

The institute’s operations will be based in the new research-and-incubator space currently under construction by Pitt at the Energy Innovation Center (EIC), a project developed by Pittsburgh Gateways Corporation in the former Connelley Trade School.

The 18,600-square-foot laboratory will include the Electric Power Technologies Laboratory, led by Reed; the Next Generation Energy Conversion and Storage Technologies Laboratory, headed by Prashant Kumta, the Edward R. Weidlein Chair Professor in the Swanson School and School of Dental Medicine; the High-Temperature Corrosion Testing Laboratory, led by Brian Gleeson, the Harry S. Tack Chair in Materials Science in the Swanson School; and the Pitt Energy Incubator Laboratories, developed by Mark S. Redfern, vice provost for research and a professor in the Swanson School, the School of Medicine, and the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

In collaboration with these researchers, the GRID Institute will address the utility sector’s critical issues, including:          

• microgrids and resilient energy systems;

• renewable technology integration (solar, wind, micro-hydroelectric, etc.);

• energy storage and power electronics technologies;

• electric vehicle-to-grid concepts;

• direct current (DC) infrastructure, technologies, and standards;

• hybrid AC/DC systems; and

• integrated energy networks.

Reed said that Pitt’s leading research in energy and sustainability and state-of-the-art laboratory space at the Energy Innovation Center will enable “GRID to evaluate, assess, and develop solutions collaboratively with our partners on major issues and technologies that impact not only our nation’s power grid, but also energy transmission and distribution infrastructure around the globe.” 

Collaborative partnerships are a key element of the enterprise, Bagley said. “We’re developing a world-class enterprise for energy and power grid research, development, demonstration, and deployment in collaboration with energy-based industry and utilities,” she said. “We appreciate the contributions of our existing partner entities and are actively seeking to add to the group in order to enrich the exchange of ideas and reach universally beneficial outcomes more quickly.”