Tech Insights

Powering Electric Construction Equipment Without Compromising the Grid

October 27, 2023 by John Nieman

European researcher SINTEF has assessed how electric construction equipment impacts grid performance and reduces emissions. The challenge is balancing local power needs with the substantial power demand of electric construction equipment.

Engineers are engaged in a complex balancing act as multiple market sectors go electric. The electric vehicle market is growing rapidly, drone technology is pivoting away from combustion to electric, and now the construction equipment market is also turning to electrical power. As more vehicles are becoming electrified, the power grid will be taxed to its limits. Engineers can manage this grid stress by carefully coordinating power loads, utilizing solar power, and managing local resources more efficiently to free up more power.

 

Electric construction equipment in operation.

Electric construction equipment in operation. Image used courtesy of Construction Equipment Guide

 

What’s Driving Electric Construction Equipment? 

Multiple market factors are driving the adoption of electric construction equipment. Some are connected to the discretion of warehouse owners and other local operators looking to optimize efficiency and reduce fuel costs. Furthermore, smaller electric construction equipment offers attractive advantages, including lighter weight, flexibility for small spaces, and lower maintenance costs. 

In addition to smaller-scale market motivations, the international community is increasing the regulation of emissions related to combustion engines, so many companies choose to use electric vehicles instead. 

 

Electric construction equipment market projections.

Electric construction equipment market projections. Image used courtesy of Grand View Research

 

In 2023, the electric construction equipment market is valued at $9.18 billion globally, and the compound annual growth rate is estimated to hold at 21.5% until 2027, resulting in a total value of $19.98 billion.

Last year in Sweden, Volvo and a construction firm teamed up to run a short-term, 10-week trial,  during which they used heavy electric construction equipment, and the results explain why regulators and private sector interests are supporting this rapid shift to electric construction equipment. The trial produced a 98% reduction in emissions, which serves regulatory interests, and there was a 40% drop in expenses for operators, showing the obvious stakes for the companies involved. 

Engineers, however, are concerned about the resources of the power grid and how this rapid switch to electrical power across multiple sectors will make it impossible to manage these demands. Kjendseth Wiik, a SINTEF researcher who worked on the site assessment, noted that when the construction site at the Kluge industrial tip in Rogaland is fully electric, the local grid will fail because there is not enough power to supply the site and the local community simultaneously. 

In the United States, we see similar challenges with power grid projections. In California alone, experts estimate that we will have to spend $50 billion on grid upgrades by 2035 just to meet the needs of the electric vehicle market. Such an upgrade does not even consider the construction equipment market. 

 

Supplementing the Grid

One way to meet these power challenges is to supplement grid use with other sources like solar, battery, and hydrogen-based options. Portable power charging stations not only help supply remote construction sites but can also preserve the local utility grid and protect that power for community needs. 

Solar power will be particularly helpful for the electrified construction industry because of the transportable flexibility offered by solar charging solutions that can be set up and taken down quickly. In addition, most heavy construction occurs during daylight hours when solar power is abundant and can be used efficiently without storing the power for later use.   

 

Onsite renewable sources, such as solar and wind, provide off-grid charging for electric vehicles.  

Onsite renewable sources, such as solar and wind, provide off-grid charging for electric vehicles. Image used courtesy of Volvo Construction Equipment 
 

Manufacturers have already developed mobile charging stations, do not require permits, and have seamless setups. And most importantly, these stations do not rely on the grid, making it possible to supply the equipment without taxing local utility supplies. Major retailers are already offering solar off-grid options.  

Hydrogen fuel cells offer promise for the construction equipment industry, but one testing trial found that they can be compromised by dust and vibrations, which are routinely present during construction.

Regardless of these complications, there have been significant strides toward supplying the electric equipment market with power that is not being redirected from other community needs.