With a Failing Construction Industry, Denver Turns to Renewable Energy5 min read
At first glance, Denver may not strike outsiders as a city that is suffering from construction job loss. The city is full of activity, and in many ways is known for economic growth. But this growth is not necessarily centered around the construction industry, unfortunately. According to the Association of General Contractor of America, a Washington D.C.-based group, Denver is suffering from record amounts of construction job loss, with employment dropping in March and April of 2020 in particular. Denver is actually currently counted as one of the worst cities in the nation for construction job loss, with 1.1 million construction employees losing their jobs over the course of just two months within the past year.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was actually a demand for construction in much of the country. Despite the pandemic causing some issues, that demand has not necessarily completely vanished. In fact, a study by the American Rental Association displayed the fact that renting equipment in the construction industry has reached all-time highs recently. About 93% of all respondents reported having rented equipment in 2019 alone.
But nonetheless, inevitably the pandemic has had an effect on construction projects, with many being delayed or canceled. This is both due to the safety hazards that come with such projects being worked upon during the pandemic, as well as the economic downturn that has accompanied the illness itself. While some projects are only being delayed, with plans to resume them remaining in place, this still means that construction workers are at least temporarily out of work. Many projects will not be resumed at all, which obviously means that these workers will be unable to recoup the funds that they are missing out on.
It’s currently estimated that 6,900 construction jobs have been lost overall in the Denver metro area. Denver specifically, as well as Aurora and Lakewood, suffered some of the greatest losses of any metro area across the U.S. But this cannot be wholly accounted for through the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, throughout the past decade, Denver actually saw a great deal of growth. Construction was one sector in which there is a particularly large amount of growth, in part because of the population rise that Denver was experiencing. As more people moved to the city, there was more of a demand for housing within the city as well. This meant more home construction, and increases in other services like chimney repair, paving and roofing as houses were re-done to keep up with demand. But sadly, the downturn for Denver began prior to the pandemic, initially starting a few years ago. The pandemic merely pushed the economic downturn to another level. What this means is that Denver’s economy is expected to remain depressed for years before it turns around. However, the city is outlining plans to divert this issue, and ideally stimulate growth within the city. Part of this has to do with the city’s plans surrounding net-zero energy.
Denver’s Future in Net-Zero Energy
Despite the current depression experienced in Denver’s construction industry, its Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency, or CASR, recently announced plans to have all new buildings and homes in Denver achieve net-zero energy by 2030. This is being done to address climate change, an issue that has long been of major focus and concern in the city.
The reason why CASR is focusing so heavily on new buildings and homes in its new climate change efforts is that these areas were identified as being accountable for 64% of Denver’s 2019 emissions. Again, despite the economic issues currently afflicting Denver, there are plans for new construction as the city focuses on revitalizing its construction industry. Therefore, it’s expected that about 40% of all of the buildings in Denver will be new by 2050. Therefore, reducing emissions needs to be addressed directly by focusing on these buildings if efforts are going to be at all successful. The construction industry itself, surprisingly enough, can be fairly sustainable. Steel is obviously used within much of the construction industry, and that material actually has a recycling rate of about 90%. This makes it the most recycled material in the world.
Denver is therefore going to focus its efforts on making new buildings and homes net-zero energy. The question for some, of course, is what exactly this is going to mean. Net-zero energy is understandably a confusing subject for some, and Denver fortunately is offering its own specific definition for the concept. Net-zero energy, otherwise referred to as NZE, needs to be powered entirely by renewable resources. It also needs to be extremely energy efficient, ideally as much so as possible.
For new homes and buildings in Denver, this is going to mean these new construction projects will be completely electric and powered through renewable energy. Additionally, they will be powered by providers of demand flexibility for the grid. The latter will actually shift electricity consumption to times when electricity is as cheap as possible and also as clean as possible.
But of course, the plan also addresses exactly how this demand for NZE buildings will be fulfilled. The 2024 Denver Building and Fire Code will require NZE, as well as completely electric homes. By 2027, the Denver Building and Fire Code will require NZE, completely electric buildings as well. Finally, by 2030 the Denver Building and Fire Code will create a verification process through which buildings will be inspected. This will ensure that they perform as they are meant to and that the rules regarding NZE are properly followed. Other processes, like ensuring that forklift operators are trained and authorized, a process that requires renewal every three years, must be followed as well.
Of course, the people of Denver may take some time to get used to these changes. This is why the city of Denver as well as CASR will utilize marketing as well as outreach and education, training and advocacy, to ensure that people are as informed about and ready for this transition as possible. Financing will also be dedicated to the project. Ideally, this will not only drive the city forward in terms of renewable energy but economic recovery for the construction industry as well.