Pbc Today: is Net Zero a Pipe Dream for the Construction Industry?

Pbc Today: is Net Zero a Pipe Dream for the Construction Industry?

Peter Sayce, Chief Product Officer at Bramble Energy, talks to PBC Today about sustainability scepticism in the construction industry and explores emerging technology that can lower carbon emissions.

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Over three quarters (81%) of the construction industry believe the government can be clearer in how it expects the sector to hit its carbon targets. That’s what was revealed in a recent survey* commissioned by Bramble Energy.

Given the construction sector accounts for nearly 40% of global CO2 emissions, it is not hard to see how the industry is feeling sceptical on how net zero can be achieved by the 2050 target. The good news is this feeling of doubt can be overcome with a clear plan of action. Let me explain…

It’s time for change

The construction sector is already seeing changes being made, especially with larger firms that have the resources and funds available to invest in green solutions. A great example is South West Building Contractor Willmott Dixon, who have pledged to go net zero carbon by 2030 with ambitious energy-efficient design and renewable technologies at the heart of their approach. Larger tenders like HS2 have also put net zero at the centre of construction with a focus on only working with suppliers who can provide reduced carbon solutions.

In order for these changes to become more accessible to the masses, it is important that the industry collaborates with vital support needed from government and industry bodies to ease the transition to a sustainable future.

The government has now released both its Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener and the Heat and Buildings Strategy but these are just the first steps on the long road to achieving net zero. It is now essential that companies – large and small – integrate the net zero target into their long term goals. It is time for firms to recognise where they can implement the solutions touted as sustainable alternatives, whilst ensuring a comparative or better end-user experience to minimise disruption in the short term.

Shaping the future of construction around the clean energy transition requires firms to be ambitious when shaping their own net zero targets and policy. In the short and medium-term, there are steps that can be taken to reduce emissions and establish their path. Acting with agility will allow firms to pre-empt the imposition of mandatory regulations in the future.

The more, the merrier for materials

A focus on the use of sustainable materials will be important as the production of building materials is currently a highly carbon-intensive process. Furthermore, the more companies start to prioritise low carbon materials, the scale on which these materials can be manufactured will start to grow.

Products such as cement and steel are difficult to decarbonise, but they have started to develop low carbon processes to produce these items. Swedish venture, Hybrit delivered its first batch of green steel to the truck maker, Volvo last year for use in its vehicles. Projects such as this will only increase in numbers as the 2050 goal nears.

In time, the industry will be able to carve out a new ‘go-to’ standard, as well as customers prioritising the use of only sustainable materials to create energy-efficient and green environments.

Green technology is naturally going to have to play an integral role in aiding the construction industry in their clean energy transition – we have already seen several examples where this is working effectively to reduce carbon emissions. Battery, solar and hydrogen power are all increasingly viable alternatives to diesel generators and onsite plant.

Hydrogen is fast becoming a prioritised technological solution with JCB announcing an investment of £100m in new and efficient hydrogen engines. Hydrogen does not only apply to large scale operations but can be beneficial across smaller and less power-hungry systems such as onsite lighting and surveillance.

Green fleets can also make an impact right now. The government has outlined how it will invest £20 million on freight trials to pioneer hydrogen and other zero emission lorries. It has also made it clear in its investment of electric vehicles (EV) and infrastructure which will help in meeting the targets set for the phasing out of all new petrol and diesel vehicles.

No time like the present

Investment now in the workforce and new skills is also vitally important. Using zero or reduced carbon materials will require training, as will application of the control systems that can drive improved efficiency from large plants. Introducing new technology, like hydrogen fuel cells, should be no different. Usability must be a major driver in the adoption of new zero carbon technologies. Without the right skills in place, it will be harder for companies to feel confident in making the switch.

Speed is the ultimate essence for the industry to reach net zero. The goal of 2050 still may seem far away, but we are starting to see it become a priority on every level, across all industries.

Collaboration will be key to success, as well as support from larger governing bodies – whether that be greater access to funding schemes, or incentivisation to drive the uptake in new technological solutions. Some larger firms have been able to invest in strategic sustainability teams, and are already piloting new methods of working. However, these firms must be willing to share the ins and outs of these new processes with smaller companies, in order to really get the ball rolling. This will be integral in helping those businesses unsure about where to start or how to change, become part of a greener future.

* 579 senior decision makers in UK construction, November 2021.

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