Solar: the clean, zero-carbon future of construction sites?

Eliminating carbon, NOx and PM pollution from construction activities is one of the most challenging frontiers for emissions targets.

Dirty, smelly, fume-filled and dominated by the relentless hum of chugging engines, construction sites have long depended on an unhealthy love affair with the internal combustion engine, and diesel in particular.

While EV technology may – slowly – drive larger-scale construction vehicle emissions reductions, diesel generators provide much of the industry’s off-grid power needs.  Now a clean, quiet revolution in ‘smart’ solar power is set to banish off-grid diesel from rail, highways and construction projects – and the transformation could be complete in as little as ten years.

Solar Lighting at the A14 construction site. Credit: Prolectric

Solar Revolution

Solar take-up has been rapid amongst Tier 1 and rail renewal contractors who recognise its ‘quick-win’ zero-emissions contribution to their emissions reduction targets.  Award-winning innovation has been led by UK independent manufacturer Prolectric since developing year-round viability less than three years ago.  They confidently predict 10% of the UK generator diesel fleet could be replaced by diesel by 2022.

Prolectric’s ProLight and ProTemp solar alternatives to diesel tower lights have already saved an estimated 1 million litres of diesel, 3,000 tonnes of CO2, and £800,000 of fuel costs. Corresponding reductions of NOx and PM emissions are helping contractors to reduce air pollution from  Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) in busy urban locations, particularly London which operates its own strict NRMM Low Emissions Zone.

Site of the Future

Earlier this month, Prolectric added the UK’s first autonomous solar-powered off-grid generator to its portfolio, through a timely asset acquisition.  The wedge-shaped device is modelled on a standard 20ft shipping container, with an array of PV solar panels mounted along its diagonal face, harvesting sunshine to charge on-board batteries.

Each standard Solatainer® delivers up to 25kW of dependable, on-demand off-grid power use for site compounds, such as heating and lighting for site offices and welfare cabins, as well as for everything from water coolers to power tools and CCTV cameras.  Prolectric has since developed the technology further providing better intelligent control and a more efficient solution.

Breaking Down Barriers

Achieving emissions and air quality gains for the industry is a battle based on the rough, tough commercial world of construction, stresses Prolectric’s Managing Director, Chris Williams. ‘Our solar technologies are not some sort of ‘feel-good’ green sideline for firms to experiment with. The industry has seen less reliable inventions come and go; our background is in introducing technology to market that meets not just environmental targets but offers sound commercial reasons for making the change.

‘Contractors are primarily cost-driven, and we have made sure our technologies match hire and purchase costs like for like as well as being 100% viable year-round.  Contractors have complex procurement rules that can stifle new product entry, so we work with our customers to fit their commercial frameworks and can now offer them a ‘Site of the Future’ from a single source.’

Solar Lighting at the A14 construction site. Credit: Prolectric

Yet regulatory barriers to wider take-up still remain, he adds. ‘The Treasury’s recent decision not to abolish tax relief subsidies for the red diesel used in many types of off-road construction plant, including diesel generators was disappointing, and EU targets for NRMM are inconsistently applied.  Even London’s NRMM LEZ only currently covers off-road engines of more than 37kW.’

Each standard solar tower light saves up to 6 tonnes CO2 per annum.  The scalability of these technologies has a huge potential to contribute to a zero carbon future, as well as tackling air pollution.

So, next time you are stuck in roadworks, or passing a construction site, look out for the solar panels and listen for the silence; it could be a sign of how well the solar revolution is progressing.

For further information visit Prolectric, the specialist manufacturer and expert provider of solar lighting and wind power technologies.