LED technology behind Bill Peduto's visit to Prague


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Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto has an ambitious plan to make the city more environmentally friendly, all while bringing jobs and creating economic growth.

It starts with replacing the city's 40,000 streetlights with LED bulbs, a plan that would be costly on the front end but would reap savings in the long run because LED bulbs are more efficient and longer-lasting. Mr. Peduto envisions making the large purchase contingent upon requiring whatever company furnishes the bulbs to put a manufacturing facility within city limits.

Better yet, the two-pronged plan, he believes, will make it easier for him to attract federal and state grant dollars since he'll be promoting both job growth and energy efficiency.

For now, the vision is just an idea, but this week, he's in Prague for a conference and will be traveling to the Slovenian headquarters of Grah Lighting, the largest LED light manufacturer in Europe, to see if he can bring the plan closer to reality. The conference in Prague -- put on by the University of Pittsburgh's Business of Humanity Project -- concerns direct current technology and its potential to re-energize poor communities.

"We have a commitment to being a world leader in sustainable technology," said Mr. Peduto, who is the favorite to become mayor in January after the Nov. 5 election.

Earlier this year, the Cleveland-based Consulate General of Slovenia reached out to Mr. Peduto after Robert Grah, CEO of the company, expressed interest in Pittsburgh and two other cities as a potential spot for a manufacturing facility and possibly a North American headquarters. Mr. Peduto has long shown an interest in LED technology, piloting an initiative to replace many of the streetlights in Shadyside with LEDs. The project, Mr. Peduto said, put Pittsburgh on the map in the LED lighting community and may be part of the reason Grah is interested in Pittsburgh in the first place.

The company could not be reached for comment.

In March, Mr. Peduto met with Mr. Grah, along with members of Allegheny County's economic development team and staff members from the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills. Mr. Grah has also met with officials in Cleveland and Denver, two other cities on the short list for a facility.

On Sunday, Mr. Peduto and his policy director, Matt Barron, will have dinner with Mr. Grah and then take a tour of Grah's headquarters in Bistrica.

Mr. Peduto has broader ambitions for sustainable technology in the city.

Nearly all communities currently operate on alternating current power grids, once believed to be safer and more effective in transmitting electricity over long distances. But professor John Camillus of the Business of Humanity Project, believes that direct current power grids are the way of the future. While the power grids use alternating current, many electronic devices -- including computers and televisions -- use direct current. When the power has to be converted (that bulky box attached to your laptop's power cord), there is an energy loss.

Direct current microgrids have already been proposed in China, where DC infrastructure could be linked to an existing AC power grid. Mr. Peduto is exploring the possibility of microgrids in any of the city's many developments, like the Almono site in Hazelwood or the development of the former Civic Arena site in the Hill District.

"I truly believe the shift to DC is inevitable," Mr. Camillus said in a phone interview from Prague. His hope is to "get Pittsburgh in the leading edge city in taking advantage of this mega trend."

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Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published October 3, 2013 4:00 AM


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