Features - Business

Diesel, dust and toxic materials: The dangers of construction site emissions


As our understanding of the effects that poor air quality can have on our health increases, so has the drive to improve it. We speak with Matthew Pencharz, Non-Executive Director at Off-Grid Energy, about the concerns and learn that construction has an important part to play in lowering pollution.

With approximately 50,000[1] deaths attributable to air pollution in the UK in 2015, as well as the detrimental effect it has on children’s lung development, it is shameful to note that the UK is still predicted to be ten years behind in achieving the legal pollution targets. The Government has also lost a run of cases in the courts during the past year, which have ruled that it is not acting fast enough to improve air quality.

The UK Government has unveiled a plan for zones in towns and cities which older, more polluting vehicles will be charged to enter as well as launching a £260M clean air package to combat pollution, focusing primarily on road transport with electrical charging points, cycle routes and concessionary travel schemes[2]. Yet whilst vehicles are a prominent part of the problem, these measures do take time and there has been less focus on other pollution sources.

Vehicles are only part of the problem

What can the Government do to improve the UK’s poor air quality, and how can individuals do more? An important source of air pollution emissions in our towns and cities is often overlooked: construction sites. Reports show that in London they are responsible for approximately seven per cent of damaging nitrogen oxide emissions, of which 25% is due to temporary power generators[3]. Furthermore, energy and fuel used on construction sites accounts for approximately 33% of total emissions from England’s construction industry[4]. But whilst a small amount of this – roughly one per cent –  is dust from general and necessary site activities such as demolition, the majority comes from the thousands of diggers powered by diesel, generators and other machines operating on the sites. Yet this type of harmful machinery is not held to the same emissions standard tests by most councils as on-road vehicles.

London has brought forward robust but reasonable regulation on construction plant – Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM)[5] – to ensure that only the cleanest equipment is used on construction sites in the busiest and densest parts of the capital and has ordered the replacement of equipment more than ten years old to cut down on pollution. Along with other government bodies across the country, the UK Environment Agency has been increasing pressure on construction companies to encourage the reduction of pollution so environmental regulations are met[6]. These sorts of measures are not to be thought of as a burden on business but, on the contrary, lead to a triple win of lower emissions, lower cost and growth of a clean tech sector, which the UK is a world leader of. The potential for using energy on these sites more efficiently and safely – delivering huge fuel cost savings – should not be underestimated.

The solution – battery storage technology

By using innovative solutions such as battery storage technology, which utilises reserved energy and allows diesel-powered generators to be turned off when batteries are fully charged, and allows for much smaller plant to be used while saving overall consumption, it is possible to see improvements in air quality and also lower emissions coming directly from construction sites instead.

Battery energy storage technology is a specialist field and, as with any new technology, requires specialist know-how to ensure effective installation and successful operation. The cross-hire offering means that genset rental companies can deliver the technology to their customer base with the confidence that systems will work and deliver reliable power but without necessarily having to invest in either the assets or the specialist expertise. A battery and diesel generator can also be used in tandem to create a hybrid system just as in a bus or car. In times of low load, just the battery runs, while in times of high load or when the battery needs charging, the generator is switched on, saving up to £500 a week in fuel costs and 2.5 tonnes of CO2. There is no question, implementing cleaner technology into construction sites is a triple win – healthier air, less CO2 and lower cost.

‘Greener’ power systems, which can deliver not only an improved and safer environment, but also provide financial benefits, are an important measure to deliver real results for better air quality across the UK. Cross-collaboration must happen between councils and the construction trade, for a rapid improvement in air quality and reduction in pollution-related deaths. We have a responsibility to deliver a safer and better world for the future generations, and this clean storage technology is something we should be embracing now.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41678533
[2] http://www.climateactionprogramme.org/news/uk-government-unveils-260-million-clean-air-package
[3] https://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/london-atmospheric-emissions-inventory-2013
[4] http://www.greenconstructionboard.org/otherdocs/CO2%20Construction%20sites%20master.pdf
[5] https://www.airqualitynews.com/2017/09/29/sadiq-khan-targets-emissions-construction-wood-stoves/
[6] http://www.sustainablebuild.co.uk/pollutionfromconstruction.html


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