Solar microgrid keeps flights on time at Pittsburgh International Airport

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is more than 8 million people flew out of Pittsburgh International Airport in 2022, but the airport’s terminals, shops, restaurants, trams, and other facilities are all on separate power grids powered by solar arrays and natural gas-fueled generators. It seems they didn’t know it was running.

The plane flies in partly cloudy skies over trees and solar panel arrays.

Pittsburgh International Airport has commissioned a microgrid project powered in part by a 3 MW solar array. Blue Sky News/Pittsburgh International Airport

PIT is the first airport in the country to use a dedicated microgrid. Its development 11 hour blackout A 2018 study at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport called into question the energy resilience of airports across the country.

PIT operates direct flights to 125 destinations and served an average of over 20,000 passengers per day in December 2022. Flight delays can be logistically and economically devastating.

Today, the PIT is powered by this dedicated solar + generator microgrid, but to make it happen, the airport and project developers are working on a new plank for energy resilience in the aviation industry. A road had to be laid.

clear for construction

Despite the immediate desire to build energy resilience into the airport, construction of the microgrid project was granted several years after initial talks. This permitting process continued early in his COVID-19 pandemic and for several months when the state of Pennsylvania designated solar construction as non-essential work.

People’s Gas, a multistate gas company, was hired to develop a microgrid project, IMG Energy Solutions, EISsolar and Hanlon Electric Company realized the project. On January 1, 2021, we finally got permission to start construction.

“Literally 48 hours later, we started construction. increase. “They built it in the middle of his pandemic from January, came online in the second week of July, and flipped the switch.”

An unusually dry Pennsylvania winter allowed installers to weather a typically harsh season. The total microgrid is 20 MW, with solar power contributing 3 MW. The array was installed at the southern edge of the airport site adjacent to Interstate 376. This hillside site was originally used as a landfill for construction debris since the airport was rebuilt 30 years ago.

“One of the sustainability aspects of this project was that we were able to build a renewable energy facility on land that otherwise would not have been developed,” said Woodrow.

Rectangular concrete ballast serves as the foundation for the pillars at the ends of the solar panel rows.

Since PIT’s solar projects are being built on landfills that contain construction waste, the array can use a combination of ballast posts for foundations and drive posts.

Another initial attempt at this microgrid attempt was the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) never allowing solar projects on landfills. Woodrow said DEP has since used its experience with the PIT solar landfill array as a touchstone for similar projects.

The foundation of a solar array is a combination of driven piles and concrete ballast. Airport landfills are not capped like landfills containing organic waste, allowing installers to penetrate the ground without risk of contamination.

IMG Energy Solutions CEO Mike Brady said: “Some of the ballast near the end of the landfill cap wasn’t deep enough, so I felt safe driving the post. because it has character.”

Given that the landscape is both hilly and reclaimed land, the solar installers used skid steers and smaller models of pile drivers to minimize surface impact on the site.

Solar arrays use 9,360. VSUN 390 W double-sided panel, RBI solar (currently Terra Smart) racking and Sungrow SG125HV string inverter. The installer poured a concrete base and suspended the inverter on supporting beams under a covered wooden roof to protect it from the elements.

Several bee hive apiaries are also across the road from the solar array, so developers planted native plants on the site to help pollinator habitat.

sustainable flight path

PIT signed a 20-year energy service contract with Peoples to pay for the energy produced by the microgrid. IMG owns and maintains solar projects. In almost two years, airports have already saved more than $1 million in energy costs by using microgrids.

Airport and project developers want to expand the presence of solar power at airports in the coming years.Billy Rudd/Solar Power World

The solar portion of the PIT’s microgrid will provide about 5% of the total energy output, with natural gas generators handling the rest. The airport set aside 20 acres for solar power, but due to previous regulations limiting solar array size, a 3 MW array could only cover 8 acres. However, plans are already underway to expand the facility with new approval from PJM.

Meanwhile, the PIT is new terminal Obtain LEED certification for reducing waste, water, emissions and energy production. In the future, more solar power could be installed at Pittsburgh International Airport.

For now, airports have more than one reason for wanting clear skies.

“I think any land that has no other use, or any rooftop that has nothing else, should be covered with solar panels because it reduces the amount of power that has to be put into power plants and infrastructure,” said Brady. . “We are trying to electrify everything, but if that is really what we are going for, we have to find a solution like this. We build buildings with energy supplies.”

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