Renewable energy is generated from resources that are indefinitely replenished naturally, including: sunlight, wind, water, hydrogen, biomass, and geothermal heat. Traditionally, non-renewable energies like those produced through the combustion of fossil fuels, have been used to generate much of the world's power. This has led to many problems, including water and air pollution, harm to plant and animal life, the creation of toxic wastes, and climate change.
While using less energy is very important, cleaner sources of energy will also be vital to creating a more sustainable city. Non-renewable energies such as coal and oil not only cause environmental harm through their extraction, processing, and use, but they are also subject to constantly fluctuating prices. Renewable energies cause less environmental damage, are more reliable, have more stable prices, and provide benefits to the local economy (jobs installing renewable energy technology can not be outsourced and are typically filled by local people).
The City of Pittsburgh has undertaken many renewable energy initiatives, including:
- The Western PA Energy Consortium, managed by the City of Pittsburgh, became a member of the EPA's Green Power Partnership for its purchase of renewable energy.
- The Consortium won a "Green Power Leadership Award" in September 2009 from the US EPA for purchasing 10% of electricity from renewable sources. This percentage increased to 15% in December 2009.
- The City uses B20 biodiesel (20% biodiesel, 80% traditional diesel) in all diesel equipment. During exceptionally cold weather, a B5 blend is used (5% biodiesel, 95% traditional diesel).
- This biodiesel is produced by a local company in the City of Pittsburgh using the waste products of animal rendering operations.
- Pittsburgh is one of only 25 U.S. cities to be named a Solar America City through Department of Energy. Through this program, the City is working to accelerate the adoption of solar energy technologies.
- In October 2009, the City installed its first solar hot water heater on Pittsburgh Firehouse No. 34 in Woods Run. Funding has been secured through a state grant to install another 5 solar hot water heaters in 2010, eliminating the need to use natural gas to create hot water for showers and kitchens in those buildings.
- Also in October 2009, the City hosted the Northeastern Solar Cities Conference, where representatives from cities throughout Pennsylvania and the Northeastern United States had the opportunity to learn about solar energy use, especially for municipalities.
- In Spring 2010, the City began a feasibility study to assess the potential for a solar farm in Glen Hazel. The 15-acre piece of property is unable to be developed, due to mine subsidence. The proposed farm could produce enough electricity to power a few thousand homes.
- In partnership with the Carnegie Science Center, a wind study is being completed along the Allegheny River to determine feasibility of installing a wind turbine on the North Shore. Much smaller than the utility scale turbines seen in other parts of the state, this project will demonstrate what an urban turbine looks like, while providing electricity for outdoor lighting.
While historically renewable energy technologies have been more expensive than traditional energy sources, recent state and federal legislation has made these technologies more affordable through incentives like grants, low interest loans, and tax credits. Below are some of the measures that individuals and businesses who want to use renewable energy can take.
- When possible, buy electricity made from renewable energy sources through your power utility company. Duquesne Light Company, provides guidance at Duquesne Light Electric Choice Program.
- Consider generation of renewable energy at your home or business. You can install solar panels for water heating or electricity generation, wind mills for electricity generation and/or geothermal heat pumps for heating and cooling. Contrary to popular belief, solar power is relatively cost-effective in the Pittsburgh area. In fact, Pittsburgh gets more sun than Germany and Seattle, two places with successful, large-scale solar programs.
- Energy efficiency improvements are always the first-step to reducing energy bills and your carbon footprint. When you are ready, learn more about installing your own renewable energy systems at the Penn Future website.