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Inside Innovation: Electrification makes worksites both ‘green’ and not heard

John Bleasby
Inside Innovation: Electrification makes worksites both ‘green’ and not heard

New electrified construction machinery has the obvious benefit of reducing GHGs and fuel exhaust emissions. Yet there is another important benefit: reduced noise.

The continuous high decibels on a jobsite created by fossil-fuel engines pose an ongoing threat to the health and safety of workers.

“Occupational hearing loss, primarily caused by high noise exposure, is the most common U.S. work-related illness…the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States,” say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The risks are recognized in Canada too. For example, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development mandates that, “every employer shall ensure that no worker is exposed to a sound level greater than a time-weighted average exposure limit of 85dBA, measured over an eight-hour work day.”

WorkSafeBC has established various protocols for construction employers, including site signage, annual hearing tests, and “Record of Hearing Test” cards to show when hearing was last tested.

Noise also impacts those in adjacent buildings, particularly in today’s tight urban settings. Builders can be expected to demonstrate increased social responsibility by making efforts to mitigate noise as much as possible on their projects.

Combined with the reduction in GHGs and exhaust, electrification appears to be a way to make worksites both “green” and not heard. That’s because electrically-powered equipment and vehicles are, of course, far quieter than fossil-fuelled equivalents.

Aside from vehicles and earth-moving equipment, gas or diesel-powered generators are often overlooked as a source of noise and GHGs on worksites. Noise levels from portable 50kW generators might be around 85dBA, but larger units can run over 100dBA. Typically, generators run all day powering all kinds of smaller equipment. They can also operate through the night running security lighting around the site, emitting noise and exhaust constantly.

Taken together, the issues of emissions and noise should encourage operators to look at alternatives, like the onsite energy stations developed by Portable Electric based in Vancouver B.C.

The company’s range of VOLTstack power stations are, of course, nearly silent and emit no exhausts of any sort. In fact, their range of units from 5kW to 20kW can be both solar-powered or plugged in for recharging. Units are currently sold in several countries around the world and are widely accepted in the entertainment and movie industries.

However, VOLTstack power stations are more expensive to purchase or rent than fossil-fuelled generators.

Given the construction industry’s longstanding resistance to new methods and sensitivity to costs, some hesitancy is to be expected. Cost premiums need to be understood and justified, both in terms of ongoing operation and long-term investment.

To address the issues of operational efficiency and costs, and to quantify the environmental benefits, Portable Electric undertook a sustainability demonstration during a construction project in Aldergrove, B.C. in 2020.

One part of the study involved replacing two portable gas-powered generators with two 5 kW VOLTstack units. In another part, a 20kW VOLTstack unit was “hybridized” with an onsite diesel generator. The results were dramatic.

Over the course of two weeks, the two 5kW VOLTstack units alone eliminated 303kg of C02 emissions. In fact, during one week, fossil fuel costs were totally eliminated through the use of PV panels.

Meanwhile, it was found that the VOLTstack 20kW was able to support the load of multiple office trailers for a full five-day working week. When necessary, the VOLTstack 20kW was easily recharged using the onsite diesel generator. Diesel generator runtime was thereby reduced by as much as 93 per cent, reducing fuel costs and CO2 emissions by as much as 76 per cent. Longer term, the reduced maintenance costs for the VOLTstack power stations versus those for typical gas/diesel generators is another factor to be considered.

The construction industry needs to maintain an open and inquisitive mind if it is to meet the noise and emission reductions expected by 2030 demanded by new regulations and government policies. Going electric onsite is one means to that end.

John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

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