Building a More Digital Economy

Opportunities Abound

A signature element of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which came into being in 2021, is substantial investment in the green economy. The transition from fossil fuels to alternative, renewable energy sources may be awkward and expensive, but it also portends significant augmented activity for the U.S. construction industry.

Not only will construction firms assist in the installation of new technologies in a cleaner and greener future and hopefully help position America at the commanding heights of the global renewable energy economy, but construction itself could use a bit of cleaning up. According to the Global Alliance for Building and Construction, buildings and construction are jointly responsible “for almost 40% of energy- and process-related emissions” globally. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates from 2018, construction and demolition generate more than 600 million tons of waste debris every year in the U.S. That is twice as much as municipalities collected from homes and businesses in cities.

At the heart of the shift towards a cleaner and more digital economy are electric-powered vehicles. The infrastructure bill strives to spur electric vehicle production, installation of charging stations, and production of batteries that drive this rapidly expanding segment. Installation of charging stations in particular represents a source of potential and significant work for those who also repair and build America’s highways and streets. Therefore they are accustomed to working with government and having personnel supplying effort in outdoor settings.

According to a White House statement, since 2021’s onset, commercial enterprise has invested more than $80 billion in relevant manufacturing processes. Over that period, the number of electric vehicles sold has tripled in America. Legislators have also been eager to build America’s capacity to manufacture semiconductors, seeking to limit China’s market share gains in the process. In short, a new cluster of activity is emerging, and it implicates roads and bridges.

There’s more. The technology that powers electric vehicles is rapidly finding its way into construction equipment, which represents an important aspect of greening construction. Volvo CE, the branch of the company that focuses on construction equipment, introduced its all-electric compact excavator in 2017. The model, which has since gone through multiple upgrades and improvements, was estimated to be 10 times quieter and 10 times more efficient than a diesel-powered excavator of the same size. It also produces zero emissions. Using two lithium-ion batteries, it can operate for eight hours before having to be recharged. The current Volvo lineup also includes wheel loaders offering approximately 8 hours of runtime capacity.

In 2019, Pon Equipment, a company based in Norway, collaborated with Caterpillar to convert a 28-ton Cat 323 Hydraulic Excavator to all-electric. Costing around $650,000, the conversion unit uses a massive 300kWh battery weighing over three tons. Using a standard industrial outlet, it requires approximately one hour of charging to provide one hour of usage. Caterpillar is clearly a believer in battery technology and has also made investments in electric car company Fisker, who has since start work on the development of solid-state batteries that can be used in construction settings.

Wacker Neuson, a construction equipment manufacturer based in Germany, has developed a dual-powered excavator. Similar to ones mentioned before, the EZ17e runs on lithium-ion batteries, which supply approximately seven hours of power. What’s makes it unique and much more usable is that it can be plugged into a regular power outlet while in use.

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About the Author

Anirban Basu

Anirban Basu is Chairman & CEO of Sage Policy Group, Inc., an economic and policy consulting firm in Baltimore, MD. He is one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s most recognizable economists in part because of his consulting work on behalf of such clients as prominent developers, bankers, brokerage houses, energy suppliers, and law firms.

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