Pittsburgh, Denmark, Swanson: International energy initiatives come to campus


Kaycee Orwig | Staff Photographer

Graduate electrical engineering student John Kieffer (left) speaks with Daniel Mosse — a computer science professor at Pitt — after the Empowering Communities through Energy Efficiency event Monday. “Those two words get my endorphins flowing,” Mosse said of the event’s title.

By Ashley Priore, For the Pitt News

Pittsburgh is a historically dirty city. The City was an industrial hub of metalworking, iron and steel factories for more than a century — but while these factories brought economic prosperity to the area, they also generated massive air pollution. After some time, Pittsburgh was known by nicknames like “Hell With the Lid Off” due to its pollution and inefficient energy use.

That’s all changed though, as was evident Monday at the University Club during an event called “Empowering Communities Through Energy Efficiency,” hosted by international environmental advocacy group Ecologic Institute.

“It’s really collaborative, but sometimes we don’t embrace Pittsburgh as a model for other cities,” Katrina Kelly-Pitou, strategy manager at the Center for Energy in Pitt’s engineering school, said. “Pittsburgh is the international voice on climate change.”

Kelly-Pitou manages the Swanson School of Engineering’s ongoing partnership with the national government of Denmark, which was announced in March. Denmark is a leader in energy conservation, and is hoping to build energy-efficient headquarters and facilities for major tech companies. The city of Pittsburgh, the Danish Energy Agency and Pitt’s engineering school partnered to deploy some of these leading technologies here in the Steel City.

“Denmark is proud to work with an American city undergoing such rapid change,” Lars Gert Lose, Danish Ambassador to the United States, said in a March interview about the partnership. “I hope this cooperation can help Pittsburgh replicate the clean energy initiatives we have established in Denmark and create economic growth that supports sustainability and resiliency.”

Such international partnership isn’t new in Pittsburgh. Kelly-Pitou discussed Mayor Bill Peduto’s “Pittsburgh to Paris” climate change plan, which focused on building a sustainable and thriving city — and in May, Pittsburgh had a seat at the Clean Energy Ministerial Global Forum on behalf of the United States.

“Pittsburgh is the center of ecological modernization across borders,” Kelly-Pitou said. “This just means that if you take care of your environment, it provides wins for your environment.”

Ecologic Institute U.S. President Max Gruenig agreed, saying Pittsburgh’s position of leadership could help promote accessibility to clean energy in the future.

“We are here because Pittsburgh is such a hub of innovation,” Gruenig said during his opening remarks. “The Ecologic Institute reminds citizens that the Center for Energy’s project with local government is global to ensure all sectors of the greater community have their voices heard.”

Kelly-Pitou also discussed the importance of community-based interactions in sustainability, saying she wants to make decisions for the community regardless of politics.

“We want to make sure that the decisions we make take the partisan out of the politics here,” Kelly-Pitou said.

In Pittsburgh, these initiatives highlight accessibility by choosing isolated or financially distressed neighborhoods to deploy cutting-edge programs.

“We are focused on the Lower Hill, Uptown area,” she said. “People pay more toward their electricity and heating bills [there] than any other part of the United States.”

But this panel didn’t stop at City limits, or even at the edges of the United States. Kelly-Pitou said she wants to expand the scope of the work to strengthen domestic partnerships and create more international ones.

“Sometimes I think what we do as a City is even bigger than what we talk about,” Kelly-Pitou said. “We are really trying to do a better job of connecting with all universities so students can get involved [in sustainability] earlier.”

Those connections also stretch beyond universities — Kelly-Pitou said the Swanson school is looking to partner with more international governments in the future.

“We are starting to partner with universities in Germany. All of the students here have an international focus,” Kelly-Pitou said, noting that Pitt’s program has become fundamental in the City’s approach to green energy.

While the event focused on global connections and government partnerships, the overarching point was the same from each speaker.

“We are always trying to incorporate social planning in our work,” Kelly-Pitou said. “We have to protect our planet.”