Energy Innovation Center

If one were to draw an opinion of this nation’s ability to responsibly manage our energy resources and environment from just watching the nightly news and following the discourse among our federal branches of government, that opinion would, most likely, be rife with anxiety, lack of confidence and confusion.

However, if you were to stand at “ground level” as a witness to the role that technology is playing in the development and implementation of new efficiencies in energy management and new processes that create new, sustainable methods of power generation, I am confident that your “take-away” would include a large measure of optimism and pride in American ingenuity and the leading role our Pennsylvania corporations are playing. So, I find myself spending less time looking up at the elevations of the federal discourse and spending more time investigating the actions of our research institutions and private corporations in energy and environment. I recommend that you do the same and guarantee that you will find the investigative experience to be the beginning of a positive, fact-filled, journey. You can easily begin this exploration in Pennsylvania. And if you need a recommendation of where to being this exploration, I recommend a visit to the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh.

As President and CEO of the Energy Innovation Center (EIC), I am fortunate to be one of the “ground level” witnesses to the research, commercialization and development of our region’s universities and private corporations. The EIC has internal roadways that are being populated with university and private corporate energy research collaborations, sustainable workforce development training programs, new venture incubation and, annually, hundreds of corporate meetings and conferences. A visitor to the EIC will soon be able to, literally, look through the glass and consider their visit to be an experience for the day or the beginning of a journey of a lifetime. More than 150 corporations have participated in the development, construction and operation of the EIC – 138 of those corporations are Pennsylvania based.

Some examples where you can experience programs that “walk the talk” include:

1) Research: Dr. Greg Reed, Professor and Director of Pitt’s Center for Energy, is establishing an Energy Grid Institute. Dr. Reed states: “This lab will be a utility scale microgrid infrastructure that’s connected to an energy management and operations system – a command and control center. We can work on everything electrical, including both alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC). There are very few research centers like ours that focus on researching electrical power delivery. The path to greater use of DC-based electrical systems will begin to replace AC systems over time, as well as to operate in hybrid AC/DC networks.”

Dr. Reed says it is now possible to build an interstate highway of electrons using direct current technology to deliver electricity more efficiently from remote resource locations to where the demand pockets exist throughout the United States.

2) Workforce Development: Richard DiClaudio, President and CEO of the Energy Innovation Center Institute (EICI), is strategically responding to and anticipating new corporate-led demand for full-time, low- and medium-skilled workers. DiClaudio says that, “The EICI has a passion to connect under- and unemployed talent with opportunity through innovative credential-styled training and upskilling.” The EICI partners offer best-in-class, skills-level-appropriate training for today’s jobs while also focusing on the rapidly approaching new skills job opportunities in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). To accomplish this goal the EICI partners directly leading corporations to drive educational innovation for formal workforce development, upskilling and job readiness training, targeting both current existing and new energy and building technology jobs growing out of the 4IR.

A foundational component of their efforts is formal collaborations with corporate partners and unions to design and deliver cutting edge 150+/- hour training programs for adults typically between the ages of 20 and 50.

Beyond training the EICI mission includes advancing thinking in both the energy clean tech and building technology sectors through mission-aligned conferences and workshops. These events involve key leaders, researchers and companies in the energy and building technologies sectors, both locally and from around the world, who gather to advance thinking, collaboration, investment and research. The EICI leverages these gatherings to further drive both new corporate relationships and advances in its training.

A key takeaway from this effort to date is summed up by DiClaudio: “The Allegheny Conference research has revealed that no matter what skill level of entry, experience or workforce rank one possesses, today and going forward, all successful employees need these common traits: 1) “ready-to-work” attitude with solid attendance and life skills; 2) be technology minded and open to new ideas; 3) understand and practice customer service, including with co-workers and supervisors; 4) value and pursue leadership growth and career advancement; and 5) be agile and nimble to effectively adjust to the rapid changes 4IR is already having on the skilled workforce.”

3) Education: Duquesne University and Urban Innovation 21 “spawned” the Citizens Science Lab and tapped Dr. Andre Samuels as Director. Located at the EIC, this lab serves as a bridge between the Hill District and Downtown Pittsburgh. As Dr. Samuels describes: “The Citizens Science Lab serves the community as a whole, but concentrates efforts on younger people in low socio-economic, at risk neighborhoods. Students who attend the laboratories learn such sciences as bacterial culture, genetic engineering, 3-D printing, building and engineering water robots, microbial fuel cells from mud and computer coding. It is all about providing students with opportunities and access to as many different kinds of sciences as possible, including the sciences of renewable energy.”

In this issue of Made in PA, you will see four examples of local energy, tech and environmental companies (kWantera, Epiphany Environmental,  Montauk Energy and Wellsite Report) that are generating solutions and capturing opportunities in response to the challenges presented in both the energy- and environment-related sectors.

By Bob Meeder, Energy Innovation Center