Construction sites and buildings are a major source of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with reports showing that global building accounts for 21% of GHG emissions and one-third of worldwide energy usage. With such a monumental impact, it’s crucial that the construction industry continue to work to increase green construction—the effort to infuse sustainability into the building process to promote a healthy environment—by integrating renewable energy sources into construction projects.
The use of renewable energy sources is perhaps the biggest step to minimize and eventually eliminate emissions produced from construction sites. Today, we’ll be diving into the different types of renewable energy sources in construction and why they are important to our industry.
Sustainability at Perlo
A focus on sustainability is woven into all Perlo projects, demonstrated by our past and current projects that include a variety of renewable energy systems that meet LEED and Living Building Challenge standards, and push the exploration of sustainable options to pursue during building. Not only did Perlo recently complete Oregon’s first commercial Living Building Challenge project for an office tenant in Portland, we also purchased enough renewable energy through Portland General Electric’s (PGE) Green Future Enterprise in 2021 to prevent over 978,000 pounds of CO2 from entering the air.
Case Study: Mahlum Architects TI
As the first Living Building Challenge (LBC) certified commercial project in Portland, achieving the Material Pedal, Mahlum’s updated space is a testament of sustainability. LBC is hailed as the most rigorous sustainable building program in the world. This was achieved by utilizing elements such as reclaimed wood from Fort Vancouver and custom curio shelves, as well as custom front doors wrapped in reclaimed wood to match the surrounding cladding.
Perlo enforced the processes necessary to recycle almost 95% of waste materials generated onsite during construction.
What is PGE’s Green Future Enterprise?
PGE’s Green Future Enterprise is one of its Renewable Power Programs, which allow individuals and businesses, both small and large, to mitigate their carbon footprints by choosing renewable energy sources such as wind power, hydropower, and solar power. This program aims to accelerate the speed of renewable deployment in Oregon and influence businesses, the community, and other utilities to choose cleaner energy.
Renewable Energy Sources in Construction
So, what exactly is renewable energy, and how can we use it on our jobsites to help create more sustainable practices in our industry? According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, renewable energy is defined as “energy produced from sources like the sun and wind that are naturally replenished and do not run out.” The construction industry has a long history of using nonrenewable energy sources in its practices to do things such as operating heavy equipment and machinery, as well as illuminating jobsites and generating heat and electricity for buildings. Reports show that heavy construction machinery in the United States takes up approximately 6 billion gallons of nonrenewable fuels annually.
Energy is used throughout the lifetime of a construction project, from preconstruction and initial planning to manufacturing construction products to demolition and waste disposal. While this can be draining, it also provides ample opportunity for sustainable practices to be used. For construction, renewable energy use comes in three main forms—wind power, solar power, and hydropower, although other forms can include biomass, geothermal, and even tidal energy. Decisions about energy-based sustainable construction techniques are guaranteed to have a positive impact following the completion of a project.
Solar power, as the name implies, is an inexhaustible source of energy that comes from the sun. Construction sites can benefit from solar energy by adopting solar-powered machines and illuminating jobsites with products like solar lanterns.
Coming from the energy created by wind farms and turbines, wind energy is an extremely cost-effective option for renewable energy. Because the cost is so low to adopt wind energy, construction companies have the option of partnering with wind power farms to get their energy, thereby helping to fund farm owners and support the estimated 60,000 turbines across the United States.
Hydropower, coming from the flow of water, is a flexible and clean option, and one of the most utilized. According to Energy.gov, “Because hydropower plants can generate power to the grid immediately, they provide essential backup power during major electricity outages or disruptions.” In addition, hydropower is affordable and can help mitigate construction costs by using preexisting structures such as bridges, tunnels, and dams.
“Constructing sustainable buildings requires a partnership with both owners and tenants in terms of saving energy, using less water, and the many other elements that go along with sustainable development and living.”
Waste Disposal and Recycling Materials
While these renewable energies provide a huge opportunity for construction companies to aid in energy conservation, significant effort can also go into the final stages of a building’s life. This includes repurposing a building for a different use and/or salvaging building materials for future use on a different project. These practices help extend the lifetime of existing resources and save a significant amount of energy and money when it comes to transportation costs, labor, and machinery use when disposing of waste.
Downsides of Renewable Energy
While renewable energy reaps amazing benefits for the environment, there are still challenges faced when using them. Technological advancements have made renewable energy usage more accessible and affordable for individuals and businesses alike, but the rate at which it can be produced to keep up with the increasing demand is limited.
Factors such as the cost of new technologies, weather variables, and land constraints all limit the rate at which we can use renewable energy. Wind, solar, and hydropower all rely on specific environmental determinants. Issues with available land also applies to most renewable energy sources, with wind fields requiring up to 100 times more space than that needed by oil field infrastructure.
Changing with the Times
Wind power, solar power, and hydropower are all ideal resources for green construction, with the ability to be harnessed and stored in the short term. Improving resource efficiency has the potential to make the construction industry more competitive and environmentally friendly.
Although there are both upsides and downsides that come with switching to renewable energies, some of the greatest emissions reductions to date have been demonstrated in the energy sector. One report from the Engineering News Record found that the adoption of solar and wind power played a massive role in decreasing construction operating costs to levels even below that of the cost of fossil fuels.
All in all, renewable energy sources are a great way to help make the United States just a little bit greener. Perlo’s push for more sustainable construction alternatives is demonstrated through our participation in PGE’s Green Future Enterprise and in our innovative building practices.
If more sustainable practices are of interest to you on your next building project, we encourage you to speak with our estimating teams about the options available and potential cost impacts to your project.