Cleaning up the construction industry with renewable energy

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Carbon emissions from construction sites are a major contributor to global warming, largely owing to the industry’s dependency on fossil fuels.

The International Energy Agency’s 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction reveals that building sector emissions increased by two per cent from 2017 to 2018, while a United National Environment Programme report states that construction industry emissions reached their highest levels in 2019.

Consequently, it’s time for the construction to clean up its act and renewable energy presents the ideal opportunity to do so, says Databuild CEO Morag Evans.

“This is about more than making smart choices around building design and the manufacture and supply of products and materials. It’s also about pursuing environmentally friendly construction activities and processes on site.”

Powering heavy machinery and equipment with electricity, for example, consumes considerable amounts of energy, while the use of generators produces high levels of carbon emissions.

Consequently, Evans advocates the use of renewable energy sources to mitigate the strain placed on the environment during the construction of a project.

“Construction companies can minimise their environmental impact by making use of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and hydrogen power cells,” she says. “These will go a long way towards reducing carbon emissions on construction sites and make them more environmentally friendly.”

Sun, wind, water and hydrogen

Solar energy, along with hydrogen power, is already making steady inroads into the construction industry, Evans continues.

Solar lighting systems present a more cost-effective – and eco-friendly – option for illuminating construction sites than their fossil fuel counterparts, while the portable and scalable nature of hydrogen fuel cells make them an excellent choice for powering temporary building sites.

As the most abundant element on earth, hydrogen is a more stable source of clean energy because it is not weather-dependent like wind and solar energy and can be made available like regular fuel.

Additionally, manufacturers of heavy machinery such as front loaders and excavators are increasingly producing machines that can be powered by solar energy and hydrogen fuel cells.

“The demand for solar and hydrogen-based construction equipment is growing and its use should be actively encouraged to eliminate onsite emissions,” says Evans.

Wind and hydroelectric energy are also great alternative sources of power for remotely located construction sites that have no connection to the electrical grid. Instead of using gas or diesel-powered generators, Evans recommends that construction companies collaborate with wind farms and hydroelectric power stations to procure the necessary energy for their projects.

No silver bullet

“In an industry as complex as construction it stands to reason that there is no ‘silver bullet’ to ensure speedy decarbonisation for the sector,” she continues. “Rather, a combination of various complementary renewable energy technologies is called for, along with a focussed move to new ways of designing, building and managing construction projects that effectively lower carbon levels over the long term.

“Technological advances are making renewable energy more efficient, accessible and affordable. The more construction companies embrace the implementation of greener energy sources, the more economical it will become.”

“Furthermore, to help scale and reduce costs, government must do its part in the form of providing incentives, formulating policy and encouraging investment that enables role players across the construction sector to access these essential renewable energy technologies,” Evans concludes.