Advances In The Use Of Renewable Energy In The Construction Industry

Credit: Chuck Choler, FlickrCC

With green technology and system development on the rise comes a shift in the construction industry. From power tools to material sourcing, new development utilizes various carbon dioxide (CO2) emitting resources. Constructing a new home releases a reported 55 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, altering the climate of Earth.

The debris from construction sites produces pollution that worries environmental scientists. Once they studied the pollution emitted by these sites, they identified the real contributor – fossil fuels. Construction sites rely on an abundance of power to fuel production. These non-renewable energy forms produce a large carbon footprint by the construction industry.

CO2 Emissions From Construction Equipment

There are millions of pieces of construction equipment in America, which utilize 6 billion gallons of nonrenewable fuels each year. This results in an immense amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions released through construction, which is contributing significantly to the changes in the atmosphere.

The construction industry’s reliance on fossil fuels makes it one of the most environmentally damaging sectors out there. To challenge these environmental issues, the industry began utilizing renewable energy sources to power their sites.

Renewable Energy

Construction companies have been slow to adopt new technologies, and that includes renewables. As the environmental and business benefits of green tech become more evident, though, that’s starting to change. Renewables are no longer the inefficient, expensive technologies they once were.

Renewable energy is more accessible and cost-efficient than ever. Over one-eighth of America’s energy consumption now comes from these sources. This allows for the seamless transition by construction companies to renewable energy sourcing.

Electric tools, electric trucks, lighting, and heating and air conditioning are all power-consuming features of construction sites. By utilizing solar, wind, and hydroelectric energy, companies can reduce their CO2 emissions and support green energy development and environmentally-conscious building design.

Solar Energy

Solar power is the most notable and widespread renewable energy source. While most solar applications power buildings or electrical infrastructure, the construction industry has found ways to use it to power their equipment. Solar-powered construction is a relatively new field, but a growing one.

Volvo recently unveiled a line of solar-powered machines like loaders and excavators. Heavy equipment is typically a notorious polluter, so these solar options are a remarkable improvement. Adopting vehicles like these drastically reduce construction crews’ carbon footprints.

Heavy machinery isn’t the only area where construction crews can embrace solar energy, either. Studies show that solar lanterns are more economical than fossil fuel alternatives, so teams across the globe have adopted these green lighting systems. Since they’re cheaper to operate, these lighting rigs can cut costs and emissions while providing needed visibility.

Construction companies can also build solar technologies into their projects. Photovoltaic windows are translucent panels that work to absorb the sun’s energy and transmute it into power. Utilizing this renewable energy form in one building can provide 80% lower greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.

Wind Energy

Wind energy is the fastest-growing power source in the world, making it increasingly attractive to construction companies. While wind power isn’t as flexible as solar, it can still help power construction projects. Erecting temporary wind towers may not be a viable option, but crews can draw their energy from nearby wind farms.

There are over 60,000 turbines in the U.S., making this power source accessible to all construction sites. Wind power is also a cost-effective source of energy – priced between two to six cents per kilowatt-hour. When companies rely on this form of renewable energy, they support wind turbine farm owners and fund green practices across all industries.

Wind power is particularly valuable for areas not yet connected to the electrical grid, like a construction site. Instead of relying on gas-powered generators, construction teams can partner with wind farms for power. As this infrastructure becomes more widely available, more crews can access it.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Hydrogen power is a growing sector of renewable energy with massive potential in the construction industry. Hydrogen fuel cells are scalable and portable, making them ideal for the impermanent nature of construction sites. While hydrogen power in the building industry is new, it’s already made significant strides.

Siemens Energy recently developed a fuel cell system specifically to power construction sites. The solution hosts fuel cells in a shipping container and can power anything that needs to be plugged in. Construction companies can use these to replace gas generators entirely, removing much of their emissions.

Some companies are also producing hydrogen-powered construction equipment. Hyundai plans to bring fuel cell excavators to market by 2023. If construction crews use equipment like this on top of fuel cell generators, they could theoretically eliminate on-site emissions.

Hydroelectric Energy

Hydroelectric power is the most widely used renewable energy source globally – some 71% of green energy comes from it. Construction crews can’t set up a temporary hydroelectric plant to power their operations, but they can still use it. Like with wind power, teams can draw their energy from nearby hydropower plants instead of using generators.

As an abundant type of renewable energy facility, hydroelectric plants may be accessible to construction crews where wind isn’t. This accessibility helps more construction projects shift to low-emissions energy. The industry as a whole becomes more sustainable as a result.

This clean and plentiful form of energy also contributes numerous benefits to the natural environment. It aids in flood control, efficient irrigation, and a consistent water supply.

Greener Construction on the Horizon

Environmental scientists predict that the United States will receive 80% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. They base this statistic on the developing technology in the world of sustainability. Green technology has found its way into the construction industry and shows promising signs for a more energy-efficient future.

Electrically powered construction machinery is in development, and various industry conventions display the current prototypes. Reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of on-site machinery could allow for a zero-emission industry. When construction companies utilize electric equipment fueled by renewable energy sources, they can reach fully sustainability practices.

This complete transition can also save the construction industry money. The rise of renewable energy technology allows for cost-effective material sourcing. And the normalization of this energy use will only reduce the cost down the road. We can expect to see more industries relying on renewable energy sources in the future for this reason.

When the construction industry utilizes green energy advancements, they can reduce their carbon footprint and increase their profits. Transitioning to electric devices powered by renewable energy is the future of the industry. And from photovoltaic windows to water power, we’ll continue to see the incorporation of green technology into the built environment, for the benefit of all.