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Pitt to collaborate with utilities, manufacturers on grid modernization

| Thursday, June 23, 2016, 12:03 a.m.
File: The West Penn Power Shaffers Corner substation at the corner of Bair and Puckety Church roads in Lower Burrell.
Eric Felack | Trib Total Media
File: The West Penn Power Shaffers Corner substation at the corner of Bair and Puckety Church roads in Lower Burrell.

The University of Pittsburgh is starting an off-campus energy institute that researchers hope will make it easier to collaborate with utilities and related firms on developing technology to modernize and improve the electrical grid.

The Energy Grid Research and Infrastructure Development (GRID) Institute will be an extension of Pitt's Center for Energy and will focus on solving problems that utilities face around the world, said the center's director, Greg Reed.

Instead of developing technology and trying to sell it to the industry, “we want utilities to bring their problems to us, and we will work with vendors on solutions,” said Reed, a professor in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering.

Initial partners in the institute include utilities First­Energy and Duquesne Light, and manufacturers such as Eaton Corp., Siemens and Emerson.

“We've been working with the university and the Electric Power Research Institute to develop advanced tools used in the analysis of our distribution system, and we expect the new institute will provide opportunities to further such research,” said FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Meyers.

The institute will operate from the space Pitt is building at the Energy Innovation Center in the Hill District. Working there in the former Connelley Trade School frees Pitt researchers from restrictions on payments from private industry and intellectual property rules that limit such work in on-campus facilities built with public bonds, Reed said.

In addition to projects focused on integrating renewable power into the grid, building energy storage and coordinating AC and DC systems, the institute will work with Pittsburgh officials and the Department of Energy on a project developing smaller, localized grids through a concept called district energy.

Department officials will visit the Energy Innovation Center on Friday to discuss that project and others with researchers, industry leaders and city officials.

David Conti is the assistant business editor at the Tribune-Review. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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