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Zero emission construction – Norway knows how

Norway’s first zero emission construction project took place in Oslo in 2019 and 2020 and it was a road-related one: redeveloping the streetscape with greening, pedestrianisation and EV charging points in the centre of the city. Since then, procurement rules have been updated to ban the use of fossil fuels and reward the use of electrical machines.

With Norway’s track record on electric vehicles, it is hardly surprising that it is taking the lead. Norway started to encourage and incentivise the use of EVs back in 1997, making them exempt from tolls and then following up with free parking and later the use of bus and taxi lanes for EVs with multiple passengers. The policy ethos in Norway has been that it should be cheaper to drive an EV than a standard diesel car to encourage uptake.

That approach has worked. Today 65% of Norway’s cars are electric, while April 2022, plugin electric vehicles accounted for 84% of new vehicle sales and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles a further 10%. Iceland, the country with the second-most EVs has 34%, Sweden and the Netherlands around 20% and Austria, Denmark, Germany and the UK all around 14%.

Oslo is part of a group of large European cities, called the Big Buyers’ Initiative, which is trying to encourage zero emission construction by creating collective demand for construction equipment. Joining Oslo is Amsterdam, Brussels, Budapest, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Lisbon, Trondheim and Vienna.

Oslo started by demanding fossil fuel-free construction, using biofuels rather than diesel. It then ramped up so that biofuels were a minimum requirement with extra points awarded at tender for contractors that went further with electrical machines. Other countries in the Big Buyers’ Initiative are following that route too, starting with biofuels.

There are a few significant barriers to wider uptake of electric construction plant. Logistics and planning for charging is one hurdle, although battery technology is improving fast. Another is energy supply, having the right network and the right type of electricity.

Electric construction plant is only environmentally friendly if it is charged by renewable electricity. In Norway, almost all power comes from hydroelectricity. One of the ‘lessons learned’ reports from the Big Buyers’ Initiative says that using electricity from power stations that run on fossil fuel to charge construction plant is worse from a carbon perspective than using diesel kit.

Cost is another issue. Currently construction equipment manufacturers are frustrated because they have the technology to manufacture heavy electric construction equipment, but there is not enough demand to make it viable. An electric excavator from Volvo, for instance, would cost more than twice as much as its diesel equivalent. Much of the plant used in Oslo has to be adapted specially from traditional kit.

So, what will Norway do next? Its public roads authority Statens Vegvesen and the Centre for Green Shift in the Construction Environment are reported to be working on a plan to make Norway’s roads carbon neutral in terms of road technology and transport. And Statens Vegvesen is suggesting that the financial incentives for buying and driving EVs be reduced to encourage more people to use public transport. It will be interesting to see if – and how – they do that.

Thermal Road Repairs is a green technology company which supplies systems to improve the quality, cost and time efficiency of road repairs and paving – at a far lower environmental cost than traditional methods. We invest significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve our existing ones.

High output. Zero emission. Zero waste. Permanent solution.


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