Challenges for the construction sector and how can mobile batteries help?

With the housing crisis, global warming and grid congestion on the rise, the construction and infrastructure sectors are facing many challenges. But how exactly did these challenges develop and what are the solutions? And how can batteries help with achieving zero-emission construction sites?

Please note that the focus of this blog post is on the Netherlands and the Dutch construction and infrastructure sectors. While some aspects might be applicable to other countries and situations, specific numbers and regulations may differ greatly.


Climate change

While Climate Change is a global all-encompassing issue, the specific goals to limit the environmental impact of construction and infrastructure are given by the government.

The “Klimaatakkoord” or National Climate Agreement was set up by the Dutch government in 2019 and is in line with the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to equal or less than 2 degrees Celsius and if possible, to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The main goal of this agreement is to reduce the produced greenhouse gases in the Netherlands by 49% until 2030 (Klimaatakkoord, 2019)[1]. While the agreement includes many aspects, such as energy generation, mobility and agriculture, the focus for this post is on construction and infrastructure, which are best included in the industry part of the agreement. Here, the agreement talks about a fully circular and emission-free future in 2050 with sustainable electricity from wind, solar, biogas, hydrogen, and geothermal energy. The goal is to reduce the CO2 emissions in the industrial sectors as quickly as possible by investing in innovation and subsidies to achieve the position of the most CO2 efficient industry in Europe (Klimaatakkoord, 2022)[2].

While the Climate Agreement covers the broad topic of Climate Change and how to combat it, the Schone Lucht Akkoord (SLA, EN: Clean Air Agreement) from the year 2020 specifically focuses on clean air, air quality and as a result on the quality of life. This agreement has been signed by representatives of the state, provinces, and municipalities, so they all work together to achieve the goal of an at least 50% healthier environment in 2030 (compared to 2016) (Schone Lucht Akkoord, 2022)[3]. One of the topics addressed in this agreement is the mobile equipment, which is used for instance on construction sites. According to the research done prior to writing the agreement, this type of equipment contributes to 10% of the negative health impacts from air emissions (in this case NO2 and particulate matter) (Schone Lucht Akkoord, 2022)[4]. They aim to reduce these specific emissions by 75% in 2030 compared to 2016 and further strive for zero-emission equipment and construction sites.

Additionally, to these two agreements, the Stikstof Aanpak (EN: Nitrogen Approach) was developed and came into force on the 1st of July 2021. This approach aims to reduce the amount of nitrogen released into nature and more specifically Natura 200 areas. The nitrogen reduction is based on the critical value for nitrogen (NL: kritische depositiewaarde, KDW), which indicates the limit above which there is a high risk of the nature being significantly affected by the nitrogen. The goals are therefore to reduce the number of nature areas, where the critical value is exceeded by at least 40% until 2025, 50% until 2030 and 74% in 2035 (Aanpak Stikstof, 2022)[5].

Furthermore, specific rules for the construction sector are included in this approach (Aanpak Stikstof, 2022)[6]:

  • The “Routekaart Schoon en Emissieloos Bouwen” (EN: Clean and Emission-Free Construction Roadmap): The goals of this approach can only be achieved by the cooperation of the government, commercial parties, and knowledge institutions. Therefore, a roadmap to focus the efforts and have concrete projects is being developed by the aforementioned parties together.
  • The “Subsidieregeling Schoon en Emissieloos Bouwmaterieel” (EN: Clean and Emission-Free Building Materials Subsidy Scheme): Since new and innovative technologies are expensive, the government has decided to encourage this process by providing subsidies for emission-free equipment, innovation on construction sites and other nitrogen-reducing measures, such as emission-free motors.
  • Resources for low-emission and circular procurement by government departments: To achieve emission-free construction sites in the future, these projects must be stimulated. Different government organisations are executing this task to focus on these specific projects.
  • A knowledge and innovation programme Schoon en Emissieloos Bouwen (EN: Clean and Emission-free Construction): Here, the commercial construction parties, the government and other knowledge parties work together on finding solutions for the energy transition in the construction sector.
  • Pilot projects to research how to make mobile equipment more sustainable: These pilots are mostly executed as part of infrastructure, housing and utility construction and include emission-free equipment to research how much the nitrogen emissions can be reduced with this measure.

These three measurements provide the framework for the construction and infrastructure sector to work in and develop further. However, this framework demands drastic and quick changes, which challenge the established order of working.

Housing crisis

While the number of over eight million residences from 2021 sounds like a high number, the housing crisis in the Netherlands is continuing to be a problem. With the trend of more single households, immigration, and a higher life expectancy together with the number of inhabitants being 17.3 million (2021), the shortage is only expected to become worse. While it took about 16 years to achieve a growth of one million in housing, the new plans from the government include a growth of one million within nine years. On first glance this issue may seem separate from the other challenges the construction and infrastructure sectors are facing, but the additional one million residences need to be built, as well as connected to challenges of zero-emission construction sites, which are in many cases still pilot projects at this moment (de Jager, 2021)[7].

Congestion problems

With the support of the government to invest in electrical equipment (Rijksoverheid, 2021)[8], the demand for grid connections on construction sites is increasing. Electrical cranes, excavators and trucks need to be charged for the construction to go smoothly. However, many construction and infrastructure projects are off-grid or in the vicinity of grid connections, which are too small to support the power peaks of these machines or quick charging times.

Especially construction projects that involve height and usually require tower cranes, lifting platforms or construction hoists are examples of a case, where high peak power is necessary. While the baseline power might be rather low, the short-timed peak power can greatly exceed the power of a small grid connection. While the actual kWh necessary are low, the kW needed is high and leads to the request for heavy grid connections (3 x 250 ampere or more) for these types of projects.

However, these heavy grid connections can not only be quite expensive but also involve considerable waiting times (Liander, 2022)[9]. A smaller grid connection on the other hand can have less costs, as well as much shorter waiting times.

The reason for these long waiting times is the grid congestion. Due to the energy transition, not only are the more solar and wind parks opening, which request heavy grid connections, but the electrification of homes and mobility leads to business, as well as private users to request heavier grid connections. Not only the requests for grid connections are increasing rapidly, but the demand of electricity is as well. This means that grid reinforcements are necessary before new grid connections can be placed because otherwise the grid is in risk of overloading. On top of this, the grid operators are struggling with a shortage of employees and raw resources.

These congestion problems are also illustrated online by the grid operators on this map, which is being updated regularly:

Mobile batteries as a solution

These challenges – congestion, new regulations about emissions but at the same time the high demand for housing projects – they make it difficult for construction and infrastructure companies to find a suitable energy solution, which provides clean energy and reduces the nitrogen and CO2 emissions. However, with a mobile batteries, these problems faced by the construction sector can be solved.

Peak shaving

Especially for the construction projects mentioned beforehand as involving height with high power peaks for short amounts of time, batteries can be a fitting solution. While the grid connection supplies the baseline power during normal operations, the battery will only take over when there is peak demand exceeding the grid connection’s capacity. This way, no bigger grid connection must be requested, and all electrical equipment is supplied with the necessary power. While the request for a big grid connection takes a long, a mobile battery can be delivered quickly and be removed as quickly if necessary. This ensures that projects can start on time, even if a bigger grid connection is added at a later stage in the project. See also our other blog post about set-up options to find out more about the possibilities.

Combination with different energy sources

The mobile batteries can not only be connected to a (small) grid connection, but also to other energy sources. This can be for instance a biofuel or hydrogen generator, but also solar panels. And finally, the combination with a diesel generator is also possible. While this might seem like it defeats the purpose of using a battery with a diesel generator, the higher efficiency and reduced running hours of the generator can reduce the emissions by 40 to 50%. Especially for off-grid construction projects, this option of combining with batteries is often chosen for a secure energy supply with a reduction of diesel fuel and emissions. To ensure the highest efficiency, the diesel generators is only activated when necessary to charge the battery. In most cases diesel generators run 100% of the time with a low load, which leads to a low efficiency, but the smart software of the battery can communicate with the generator to ensure that the generator only turns on when necessary and then runs on the optimal load. For the specific numbers of how much more sustainable a battery is compared to a diesel generator, read here our blog post about the lifecycle assessment of our batteries.

The duration of the project

While the investment in a grid connection is a one-time cost, the battery rental comes with weekly or monthly costs. Therefore, it is important to consider the duration of the construction project when assessing batteries as an option. For projects up to approximately 1 to 1.5 years, it may be more economical – depending on local fixed connection costs – to use a battery in addition to a small grid connection. An additional advantage is that the lead time is then much shorter. And in some cases, the actual waiting time for the bigger grid connection can be used as valuable work time with the addition of the battery to bridge this time frame.

Mobile batteries as the temporary energy solution for your construction project

All in all, mobile batteries are a viable solution for the challenges of the construction sector presented in this blog post. With a combination set-up including a battery, waiting times for grid connections can be bridged, emissions of off-grid projects can be reduced, and power peaks are not a problem anymore.