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Global leaders will meet this week in Pittsburgh in hopes of charting a clean energy future

Pittsburgh Convention Center, Three Sisters Bridges
Keith Srakocic
/
AP
The Global Clean Energy Action Forum will last between Wednesday and Friday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

The race is on to transition to a low-carbon future, and world leaders will meet in Pittsburgh this week to explore strategies for cleaning up the energy sector.

The Global Clean Energy Action Forum will last between Wednesday and Friday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh. Its lengthy list of prominent speakers includes Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia.

Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Stefani Pashman said 6,100 people have registered to attend in person, while an untold number have signed up to view sessions online.

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“It truly is an incredible, diverse mix of individuals from all around the nation and around the world who are thinking about and tackling the challenge of clean energy, offering solutions, looking for collaborative opportunities, and really interested in seeing what Pittsburgh has to offer as we are also trying to build the future of energy here,” Pashman said.

She estimated that at least a dozen energy ministers from the Group of Twenty bloc of governments will attend the forum. The G20 encompasses 19 developed and emerging economies, plus the European Union.

Other participants will include top executives from roughly 40 multinational companies, clean energy policy specialists, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, according to Pashman. She co-chairs the event’s host committee, along with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian.

The program this week marks the first joint meeting of the Clean Energy Ministerial and Mission Innovation initiative. Both international platforms include representatives of government, business and academia who seek to advance climate action.

Pashman noted that southwestern Pennsylvania has played a critical role for centuries in developing new energy sources that range from coal to nuclear power to natural gas. But she said the region is ready to shift more heavily toward renewable energy and other technologies that emit fewer greenhouse gases, a primary driver of climate change.

“We're really looking forward to building new partnerships, new relationships [to] let people see that Pittsburgh is really a place to do business and be part of the clean energy future for the world,” she said.

Pashman and other local officials have lobbied for federal funding to turn the region into a hydrogen power hub. The Biden Administration is expected to name at least four such hubs throughout the country by the spring.

Hydrogen is an alternative fuel that can be made from natural gas and steam. While the use of hydrogen doesn’t release carbon, its production does — when it relies on fossil fuels such as natural gas.

Environmental activists who oppose the proposed hydrogen hub have organized three days of counter-programming that coincides with this week’s forum of world leaders. They plan to hold protests Wednesday and Thursday in Oakland.

A separate group, however, launched Monday to embrace an “all-of-the-above” approach to clean energy development that includes hydrogen fuel, renewable energy and nuclear power.

Former Pennsylvania auditor general Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, partnered with former Republican state Rep. Marguerite Quinn to form Energy Future PA. During a call with reporters Monday, DePasquale described the group as “a coalition of partners all united in bringing new investments to the Commonwealth that target innovative energy technologies while also recognizing Pennsylvania's already-rich existing energy portfolio.”

Energy Future PA plans to lobby state policymakers and political candidates to secure such investments.

For now, though, Pashman said the region has already taken steps toward a lower-carbon economy. California-based Nextracker reopened a Leetsdale factory in June to make parts for solar panels, she noted. Nexii Building Solutions, a Canadian company that produces a lower-carbon alternative to wood, concrete and steel, also plans to add a plant in the Pittsburgh area, she said. Famed actor and Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton will have an ownership stake in the facility.

Meanwhile, on Monday, North Side-based Astrobotic announced its plans to develop a solar-based electricity service for the moon. The space robotics company said its “LunaGrid” will deliver uninterrupted power for landers, rovers and other lunar surface systems.

Astrobotics aims to begin deploying and testing the technology as early as 2026. It hopes to launch the first operational grid by 2028 at the lunar south pole.

An-Li Herring is a reporter for 90.5 WESA, with a focus on economic policy, local government, and the courts. She previously interned for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, and the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Pittsburgh native, An-Li completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and earned her law degree from Stanford University. She can be reached at aherring@wesa.fm.