For more than two centuries, the Pittsburgh region has been a recognized center of energy production and innovation. From its roots as a major producer of fossil fuels, to leading the way in nuclear, to being recognized as a center of alternative energy development, the region has energized the world.
According to the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s soon-to-be-released annual State of the Industry Report, the energy industry in the 13-county region has 1,047 establishments employing 30,000 people. The total annual payroll in 2016 totaled $2.6 billion.
Southwestern Pennsylvania is home to companies that truly cover all aspects of energy production, safety, efficiency and transmission. TEQ magazine wanted to highlight the diversity of the energy sector with the following profiles of Pittsburgh Technology Council members in the sector:
Energy Innovation Center Prevents Energy Loss with Continuous Monitoring
The Energy Innovation Center (EIC) has much to be proud of, not the least of which is achieving the LEED Platinum certification. Among other things, the LEED certification offers independent, third-party verification that this building has demonstrated high performance in energy efficiency. No small feat for a structure that’s 88 years old as of this writing.
The EIC design-build team followed efficiency principles to make sure everything in the update of the building included data collection and transfer, continuous commissioning, measurement and verification, and heating and cooling.
“At the Energy Innovation Center,” said Bill Miller COO, “our focus is to operate with as much energy efficiency as we possibly can. Thanks to Siemens sensors, we know everything about every energy aspect of our headquarters right down to the thermostat level to maintain ambient temperature in a specific room. Doing this assures that the system is optimized and assures us that all components are operating together safely in an optimal and consistent way.”
According to Miller, “Siemens sensors enable EIC to monitor 6,000 to 8,000 data points throughout the building every seven to eight minutes during the day. This pervasive and repetitious monitoring is getting to be a common approach. We have sensors on every circuit breaker.
“We can isolate anything that’s out of kilter. I think this indicates how buildings should be built. There’s a direct relation to dollar savings and operating at such a state-of-the-art level. This enables us to make determinations about how our system is operating and to cost-monitor the system. This means that the organization optimizes all its systems, including energy.
What’s more, systems have periodic malfunctions that need to be repaired or corrected. Sensors indicate when there’s a systems problem. EIC needs to respond to that. A system could be out because of a malfunction, and without monitoring, it may not have been noticeable as a problem. So, the finer the monitoring details in a building, the better one can recognize that things aren’t running as well as they should.”
According to Miller, systems that are left alone and not monitored continuously will get out of sync and will operate in a way that is energy-inefficient. “Let’s just take an example of one component of a building — a motor that drives water through the systems of a building and is designed to run at an efficiency rate of a certain degree,” Miller pointed out. “Once this motor goes off this rate and runs slower or faster, you’re losing energy.”
This pervasive and repetitious monitoring is getting to be a common approach in building maintenance. The bottom line is to assure energy efficiencies.
Optimus Technologies Plans to Dominate the Commercial Trucking Sector with Biodiesel
Eight years ago, Colin Huwyler, now CEO of Optimus Technologies, saw a need for renewable transportation fuel, like biodiesel, to complement diesel fuel in the commercial sector. “Some individuals were experimenting with alternative fuels,” he remarked, “but we didn’t see it in the commercial sector, the largest consumer of diesel fuel.”
The transportation sector, according to Huwyler, is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and tail-pipe emissions. This is harmful to the environment because of the volume of trucks on the road. The transportation sector, is the second largest greenhouse gas contributor after electricity, contributing 27 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Within the transportation sector, medium and heavy-duty trucks are the second-largest contributor at 23 percent of the total.
Commercial vehicles use between 10,000 and 20,000 gallons of diesel per year, per truck. Huwyler imagined a fleet of 1,000 trucks burning diesel fuel and envisioned a massive market for biodiesel fuel. “The opportunity there is tremendous,” he said.
Optimus Technologies serves the commercial market in two segments: return-to-base operations like UPS or a FEDEX, with a central hub form which they operate trucks out and back every day, and the over-the-road transportation sector like tractor trailers hauling goods over long distances, such as Pittsburgh to Los Angeles.
For drivers who refuel at their sites, they’re coming back to their location every day. “One of our customers in Michigan,” Huwyler pointed out, “hauls grain and soy beans. The company operates out, delivers its load, returns and refuels onsite. Following a pattern like this makes it easier for them to use biodiesel.”
“We now work with national strategic partners to make biodiesel available to trucking companies in this commercial sector,” Huwyler pointed out.
Optimus Technologies never inhibits truck engines from running on traditional diesel. If drivers have to drive on a route that isn’t their normal route, they can just refuel with regular diesel.
The big attraction to biodiesel is that it’s made from renewable sources. The greenhouse gas emissions from biodiesel are 80 to 100 percent lower than diesel fuel—a huge environmental impact.
What’s more, there’s an economic driver, with biodiesel purchased at a discount from the cost of diesel fuel. The discount varies, but it can run from 30 cents per gallon to $1.00 per gallon.
This makes sense for the commercial market, especially for a trucking fleet that’s using 20,000 gallons of fuel per truck. Fueling 1,000 trucks with biofuel could save $.50 a gallon, equating to $1MM/year. The trucking industry operates on very narrow margins, on fractions of a penny in fact. So, if you can save $.50 per gallon, this has a highly positive impact on the bottom line.
A key to the success of Optimus Technologies is its Optimus Vector System, a combination of patent-pending mechanical hardware and software. This system is a biofuel solution that bolts onto a truck and enables it to run exclusively on biodiesel. To optimize fuel savings and emission performance, the Vector System powers the engine on biodiesel renewable fuel 100 percent of the time other than startup and shutdown. It allows a fallback to diesel operation, if necessary.
The Vector System bolts right on to an existing truck system to reduce operating costs without rebuilding, replacing, or significantly modifying existing engines.
The system is optimized for the use of existing, renewable fuels and to accept new fuels as they emerge. This is an intelligent system that enables tracking and quantitative analysis of cost savings, emissions reductions, and petroleum offsets.
“No other company offers these advantages and EPA compliance for advanced biodiesel conversion systems designed for medium- and heavy-duty trucks,” said Huwyler.
WellSite Report Pushes Information Faster Between Field Operators and Management
Through its WellSite Report app, Digitoil is making it easier for operators and service companies in the oil and gas and other industries to receive information from employees in the field.
With this app, they can quickly create detailed reports about projects, safety incidents, service-quality failures, and behaviorally based safety observations from the field. The company’s customers include operators and service companies.
“We can help establish or improve safety processes of customers with our real-time incident reporting and case-management workflow,” Mike Fisher, VP of Sales, pointed out, adding, “We establish preventative safety measures with behavioral-based safety observations. Doing so reduces risk by identifying and correcting unsafe conditions before they become serious issues.
“The oil and gas industry experiences difficulties that not everyone can understand. Ours is a product that was designed by oil and gas professionals for oil and gas professionals. We wanted a technology that employees in the field and managers wanted to use every day.”
A wide variety of organizations use the WellSite Report app, including wireline companies, frac companies, casing companies, water transfer companies, water purification companies and water haulers. All of which is testimony to the fact that Digitoil relates to these multi-service businesses.
“In many ways, we have no direct competitors,” remarked Fisher. “We bridge operations and safety on a unified platform to capture and manage data. Our app provides a flexible platform that allows data capture in real time to enable decision makers to use data to make better and more timely decisions.
“Conventional communications forms—like the manual processes of telephoning, sending text messages and voice mail—simply fail to provide real-time, immediate communication. They lack the immediacy that the WellSite Report provides. When you consider manual processes, like phoning or sending a text message or a voicemail, it’s hard to leverage traditional forms of communication to capture relevant data that can be used to reduce service quality failures and incidents. With the WellSite Report app, project updates and incidents can be captured and communicated in seconds and managed in minutes.”
Peoples Gas Helps Organizations Conserve Energy Through Its Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Program
One can’t talk about the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) initiative of Peoples Gas without addressing the work of the gas company with the Energy Innovation Center (EIC) in Pittsburgh. The EIC enables new and innovative clean-energy technologies to be tested in a real-life environment. This aids in understanding more clearly how these technologies might meet the demands of different markets.
“The 200,000 square-foot building that houses the EIC uses microturbines on a CHP system designed by Peoples to generate electricity and thermal energy in a single process,” remarked Barry Kukovich, Director of Community Relations for Peoples Gas. He added that the heat that would normally be wasted can actually be recovered, avoiding energy loss that occurs from separate generation.
Microturbines run at high speeds and, like larger gas turbines, they can be used in power-only generation or in combined heat and power (CHP) systems. They can operate on a variety of fuels, including natural gas in resource recovery operations. Microturbines can burn waste gases that would otherwise be flared or released into the atmosphere.
For some time now, Peoples Gas has enabled commercial companies and organizations to add advantages for themselves through its CHP program, especially in saving on electricity. Plus, CHP gives out low-carbon emissions. And the program improves a company that uses the CHP program through better Leeds certification. The program enables a more efficient use of energy, is more reliable an energy source with lower susceptibility to power outages and lowers dependency on our electric grid.
The EIC promotes these technologies on an industrial scale. These technologies are paving the way for a more widespread use of clean-energy solutions, and Peoples Gas will continue supporting the efforts of EIC.
In the EIC’s CHP system, microturbines use waste gas instead of it being released into the atmosphere. Steam from the turbines is also passed through an absorption chiller that pulls away the heat, allowing the resultant chilled water to be used for cooling.
Conventional methods of producing heat and power separately have typically resulted in a combined efficiency of around 40 percent. Contrast this with the EIC’s CHP system, projected to work at closer to 80-percent efficiency, in effect doubling the efficiency of the system. And with all systems operating, the energy of the entire building is projected to increase by 20 percent.
The installation is performing according to expectations. And EIC expects to see a return on its investment in 5 years. This project helps to promote the application of microturbines and CHP systems toward more sustainable power and energy practices…and shows more people what this technology can do, and how Peoples Gas can help to move our region toward more sustainable power and energy practices.
THE EIC is not the only regional organization using the CHP system. A smaller-scale version is running at Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus. This leading environmental campus uses sustainable technologies and methods to model a new energy approach. It is currently a net-zero campus, meaning that it produces as much energy as it consumes.
At the Eden Hall Campus, you will find two small turbines roughly the size of home air conditioning units installed at the Esther Barazzone Center. These two turbines generate an electric baseload running in tandem with the building’s solar cell array. Steam from the turbines is directed into the campus’s extensive geothermal loop. The combination of systems is both a practical and cutting-edge example of how energy systems can be customized to fit individual building needs.
Peoples Gas is now introducing its commercial customers and manufacturing customers to a wide range of CHP solutions, all designed to save the customer energy dollars and to better the environment.
Selling One Form of Energy Doesn’t Cut It Anymore
Consider WGL Energy, with a sales office in downtown Pittsburgh. “We’re an energy supplier in the broad sense,” Clint Zediak, Vice President of Sales, remarked, adding, “We provide not only competitive electricity and natural gas to residences and businesses in the area, but we can also provide solar panels, fuel cells, energy efficiency and other renewable energy options.” WGL Energy is headquartered in Tysons Corner, Va.
WGL Energy offers energy answers that span traditional and renewable energy solutions across the energy spectrum—from solar and wind power to clean and efficient natural gas to carbon offsets that can counterbalance emissions and help to drive a more sustainable future.
He added that energy spending can be turned into an asset that can help businesses grow and households stay powered by focusing on reliability and sustainability through not only traditional grid-supplied energy, but also “behind the meter” renewable energy options.
“Let’s say your business spends $1,000 per month on energy. This is an expense you’re going to have anyway, so why not look for energy solutions that can keep your business running, or build a more sustainable brand?” questioned Zediak.
“We offer a broad range of renewable energy options to attract people who are environmentally focused,” emphasized Zediak. “Customers want to buy our product, because of our focus on the environment. We have proud partnerships with the Green Building Alliance here in Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation that help us realize our environmental vision.”
WGL Energy, comprising WGL Energy Services and WGL Energy Systems (both companies that are part of WGL Holdings, Inc.), has been serving customers in the Pittsburgh area for more than six years and opened a regional sales office in the Gulf Tower on Grant Street in January 2017.
This company is an affiliate of Washington Gas, the regulated natural gas utility of the Washington, D.C. area. “WGL comes from a long, energy history. Washington Gas started selling natural gas 170 years ago to light the U.S. Capitol Building, hence our name, ‘Washington Gas Light,’ or WGL,” Zediak pointed out.
WGL Energy, a supplier of energy in the mid-Atlantic region, is one of four main subsidiaries of WGL Holdings, Inc., the other three being WGL Midstream, Hampshire Gas and Washington Gas.
Solar installations of WGL Energy Systems can be seen across the country. “We have more than 250 megawatts of distributed generation projects installed or under contract across 21 states and the District of Columbia over the past 9 to 10 years,” Zediak remarked.
“We finance projects so customers don’t have to pay upfront capital. We sign long-term energy agreements, and customers get energy at a fixed price. We basically act as the financier, owner and operator of the asset, enabling customers to focus on what is important to them,” offered Zediak.
“Our Distributed Impact™ philosophy reflects the way we go to market with energy assets,” Zediak added. “It enables WGL Energy to be a one-stop supplier of energy products.”
The company works with the industry’s best consultants and directly with organizations ranging from the federal government to individual residential customers in the mid-Atlantic region to optimize their energy spend.
Today, turning energy into an asset is a hot topic in the energy industry. “Everyone needs energy, and many companies look on energy only as a monthly expense. We help businesses by focusing on different solutions, like sustainability and efficiency,” Zediak emphasized. “As the saying goes, ‘the cleanest megawatt hour is the one you don’t use’ and that ultimately has less impact on the environment at the federal, state and local levels,” Zediak mentioned.
When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, and businesses and homes in the mid-Atlantic region lost electricity for days or even weeks, it forced a lot of consumers to think more about being less grid independent and finding ways to diversify their energy sources. As part of its energy solutions offering, WGL Energy helps consumers do this with its Distributed Impact™ approach.
And as the environment becomes a more important topic, energy sustainability is attracting more customers as they seek ways to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and attract new customers, who themselves, value the environment and are looking for ways to help.
Energy turned into an asset can help businesses grow by keeping them running during inclement weather, saving money through lower energy consumption, and even getting the attention of new customers or employees who also have a focus on the environment.
WGL Energy has been providing energy products since competitive energy markets opened in the late 1990s and brought its experience to the Pittsburgh region over the past several years. For a city like Pittsburgh, where Mayor Peduto wants the city to be powered by 100 percent renewable power by 2035, that seems to be a good fit for the region.