BRUSSELS – Last Thursday, 24th of May 2018, Bellona co-hosted an official EU Greenweek Partner event in the European Parliament with S&D MEP Seb Dance on Zero Emission Construction sites, “Building greener and more liveable cities: the role of zero emission construction sites”. The event highlighted the alarming health and environmental impacts of construction site machinery, a topic which has received relatively low attention, despite the fact that they account for the 3rd largest share of a building’s life-cycle emissions. The event gathered EU and local policy makers, industry actors, and civil society in a discussion on how public procurement standards can help encourage the uptake of zero emission construction machinery. The key takeaway was that the technology is available, but the market is not, demonstrating the need for cities to deploy their procurement potential to create one.
The event took place in the midst of the recast of the Clean Vehicles Directive, a key legislative proposal which mandates for the setting of targets for public procurement of ‘clean’ vehicles.
In the meantime, the EU is undergoing a major human health crisis, relating to air pollution and noise pollution, along with the overarching issue of anthropogenic climate change. Recent studies report air pollution is to blame for more than 500,000 annual deaths in the EU, while others suggest noise pollution can be responsible for more deaths than any other environmental factor in major cities. Construction machinery is responsible for a large share of air pollutant emissions: in London, they produce around 7.5% of the city’s NOx emissions, 8% of PM10, and 14.5% of PM2.5.
Bellona’s conference placed cities at the heart of the debate, with representatives from Oslo City and the C40 Cities network featuring among the speakers and panellists. With rising urbanisation trends and population growth, cities are a major source of air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. Nonetheless, their density means they play a central role towards solving the current human health and environmental catastrophe. Using their financial clout through public procurement offers a significant opportunity to lead by example and create a market for zero emission construction machinery, which already exists but faces barriers in terms of market demand and economies of scale.
Opening the debate, host MEP Seb Dance, highlighted the human health and environmental impacts of construction site emissions, mentioning the impact on London air quality, and EU-wide air pollution-related health impacts. Having previously acted as Shadow-Rapporteur on the recast of the Non-Road Mobile Machinery Regulation and currently playing an instrumental role as Shadow-Rapporteur of the Clean Vehicles Directive (CVD), Dance is well aware of the urgency to tackle construction site emissions and has tabled amendments to include construction machinery within the CVD’s scope.
Bellona Europa’s Director, Jonas Helseth, acting as moderator for the conference, pointed out that construction machinery emissions account for approximately 18% of Oslo’s total emissions, and exceed CO2e emissions of domestic air and rail travel in Germany combined. He reminded the audience that there is no specific EU legislation for construction site emissions to date and that the current recast of the Clean Vehicles Directive offers a unique opportunity to address the oversight.
Lene Lad Johansen, project manager for Smart Oslo, and a knowledgeable voice on the topic of zero emission construction sites in Oslo, outlined Oslo’s strategy and targets. The city aims to build a kindergarten next year which will be in line with its newly established procurement standards for construction site emissions. The deployment of clean, zero emission construction machinery in areas such as kindergartens and hospitals is crucial to reducing vulnerable people’s exposure to dangerous levels of air pollution. A new study commissioned by the London mayor’s office found that children in London schools are being exposed to higher levels of health-damaging air pollution inside the classroom than outside.
Johansen, furthermore, explained that the city is working with multiple partners, including Bellona, for the development of zero emission construction machinery. As such, she followed up with a few existing examples of electric machinery, demonstrating that the technology does indeed exist, concluding with the inspiring words ‘We have stopped walking and have started to run’.
Next, Bellona’s Christina Ianssen, working as a transport advisor, summarised the work of Bellona on construction, looking to decarbonise the entire supply chain by tackling the embedded emissions of materials used as well as electrifying construction machinery. Building on Oslo’s presentation, she mentioned that, some heavy duty machinery has already been developed through a pilot project in conjunction with Oslo City and industry partners. Finally, she said public procurement would be key to ‘snowballing’ the development of zero emission construction sites.
Matija Matokovic, from DG GROW, followed on, emphasising the EU’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. He outlined the regulatory framework for public procurement, which can play a significant role in innovation, via 3 concepts: Guidance, by shedding light on how public procurement can foster innovation and provide a business case; Partnership, by seeking consortia of public buyers and representing large networks; and Facilitation and Funding, by bridging the gap between the supply and demand, supporting SMEs, and competence building, financing €4 million through H2020.
Erik Sollerud, Managing Director of PON Equipment Norway, said the company has sought to identify areas in which it could improve its environmental performance. From this, they came up with a ‘pyramid’ of priorities to achieve sustainable construction, of which the only aspect remaining to be addressed was zero emission machinery. As such, PON have developed a fully electric 25-ton excavator, a feat which many competitors assumed couldn’t be done. Sollerud highlighted that the electric model had identical performance to its conventional counterpart, did not require operator training, and could work for longer hours because of its efficiency. Nonetheless, raised important questions as to who should pay for the cost of infrastructure and who should foot the bill for energy consumption.
The panel discussion
This concluded the round of speakers, which was followed by a panel discussion, adding DG Environment, C40 Cities, Wacker Neuson, and Liebherr.
Josefina Lindblom, Policy Officer for Sustainable Buildings at DG Environment, interestingly pointed out that this was the first time she had come across a debate looking specifically into the impact of emissions from construction sites and that this is indeed an area that has received relatively little attention. She mentioned that despite the fact that the emissions during the construction phase of buildings were less than during the use of a building and the embedded emissions of the material, it was still an important part of the supply chain decarbonisation.
Tim Pryce built onto this, as Interim Programme Director for Energy and Building at C40, stating that around 20% of consumption-based emissions in C40 member cities related to the life-cycle of buildings. He emphasised the role of municipalities in drawing up building regulations, a seemingly untapped resource in the promotion of cleaner construction sites.
Stefanie Wieland, Head of Group Brands, Marketing & Communications at Wacker Neuson, claimed there was good momentum towards zero emission construction sites, a sector whose emissions have passed ‘under the radar’. She supported the idea of electric machinery as an inner city solution, but remarked that diesel today emits much less than it did 20 years ago. When Wacker Neuson launched its first zero emission products, the industry was amused by Wacker Neuson’s intentions to electrify. Indeed their battery-powered models are not yet top sellers, however they were gaining momentum in the Benelux, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavian countries.
Wieland emphasised the need for their machinery to last at least one full working day and to be economically attractive, citing around 2-3 years of amortisation time. Her largest concerns involved the cost of batteries, a concern which was echoed by the other industry representatives, and Wacker Neuson already offers the possibility of leasing or renting of batteries to reduce costs and risks for decision makers. She carried on this point by claiming that convincing rental companies to invest in zero emission machinery is a big step that Wacker Neuson has already initiated, as this would reduce the risk for contractors since they would bypass the high capital expenditure.
Philipp Fleischer, Head of Product Management for Excavators at Liebherr, agreed with most of what the other industry representatives had said with regards to the issue of demand. However, he added that the discussion around electric machinery does not need to focus entirely on batteries, since some applications requiring less flexibility could be met with cables or trolleys, such as in indoor applications or mining, thus vastly reducing the cost of the machine. He also expressed a need for short-term benefits of electric machinery to be clear, otherwise change would not happen.
He confirmed that the technology is available and can be mimicked from other industries, such as public transport, but that there were still public perception concerns to moving to new technology, such as the risk of fires from hydrogen fuel cells or electric batteries. He also made the point that switching towards zero emission construction sites would require additional industry wide investment in the infrastructure and personnel training. Nonetheless, once the machinery achieved economies of scale, many of these issues would be resolved.
After the discussion, questions were raised about the impact electric machinery would have on the grid and on the developments of battery prices. The participants generally agreed that the grid issue is real, but that this would have to be dealt with locally. Johansen said Oslo was lucky to have a mostly renewable grid and that the city is thinking of building battery infrastructure for storage, which would address the grid flexibility. Regarding batteries, the panel was clear that battery prices for heavy duty uses had not improved significantly in recent years, reminding the audience of the difference between light-duty and heavy-duty battery technology, which have different chemical compositions and safety standards. A key issue was the fact that battery production was lagging behind demand.
To wrap up the event, Seb Dance noted that the insightful discussions had reinforced his desire to widen the scope of the Clean Vehicles Directive, and demonstrated support for the further collaboration between cities and Member States on the issues, regardless of their membership of the EU.
Speakers’ presentation slides, agenda, and factsheet available here:
Lene Lad Johansen, Smart Oslo, Oslo Kommune
Christina Ianssen, Transport Advisor at Bellona Foundation
Matija Matokovic, Policy Officer for Innovation and Public Procurement, DG GROW
Erik Sollerud, Managing Director, PON Equipment Norway