(TNS) -- Duquesne Light Co. and the University of Pittsburgh will partner on a series of projects and research programs aimed at improving moving the local electrical grid into the 21st century.

The Downtown-based utility said Monday it will contribute $500,000 to Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering to fund research and lab equipment, and will install a microgrid at the company's North Shore training facility.

Building a microgrid – which is a smaller cluster of energy sources that works separate from the larger grid – will provide a real-world laboratory to students and company workers looking to integrate renewables and new technology into older systems, said Duquesne Light CEO Rich Riazzi.

“This strategic partnership … includes projects designed to provide Duquesne Light with the critical knowledge to help inform future electric grid design and potential new products and services for our customers,” Riazzi said in announcing the plan at Pitt's 10th annual Electric Power Industry Conference in Oakland.

Talk at the conference centered on moving the grid beyond its inefficient, 19th century roots of generating electricity from massive, centralized plants and moving it great distances to population centers.

Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said the partnership allows students and staff to help “reimagine the grid for an economical, sustainable future.”

The conference also will focus on the next steps of an agreement that city officials signed in July with the Department of Energy to promote university and corporate research here into the district energy concept, which involves tying together microgrids for use in city neighborhoods.

Mayor Bill Peduto, in comments before the Duquesne Light announcement, said that agreement with federal officials began with a short meeting last year with President Obama.

“We can look at all of the different models and test them right here,” he said of the effort, which includes using co-generation plants that make both electricity and steam to power new developments such as the former Civic Arena site in the Hill District.

“As we look to rebuild all those areas of the city, we have the ability to work hand-in-hand with institutions and companies to create new models that aren't yet here,” he said.

Infrastructure is being designed for the former arena site with co-generation in mind, “so we're not putting in a traditional system and then adapting it to what would be necessary,” he said.

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