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March 09, 2021   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

Building Back Better: How Advanced Diesel Power is Building the Renewable Energy Future

Building the clean energy future - installing wind farms or solar arrays - depends on traditional and specialized heavy-duty construction equipment, nearly all of which is powered by diesel.

Renewable energy to power our homes and businesses is already here and growing. New windfarms and solar arrays installed in 2020 are already providing the most new planned power generation capacity in the U.S. While relatively small compared to the existing stock of conventional natural gas and coal powerplants, the reliance on new sources of renewable power will continue to grow due to market forces and expected new Biden Administration policies. Recently the Biden Administration gave the OK to move forward on the massive Vineyard Wind project that will deliver 800 MW off-shore wind.

Building this clean energy future - installing wind farms or solar arrays - depends on traditional and specialized heavy-duty construction equipment, nearly all of which is powered by diesel.

Electricity Generating Capacity

Diesel fuel is the most energy dense transportation fuel around and the diesel engine is the most efficient means of transferring energy density into work. This explains why nearly all of the most heavily utilized off-road equipment found on job sites are powered by diesel. Thanks to decades of innovation, the latest clean technologies now power this equipment. Since  2014, new engines powering off-road equipment achieve near-zero emissions performance - 90 percent lower in particulate matter and nitrogen oxides relative to previous generations of technology. 

Energy Density Graph

The new generation of diesel’s environmental credentials go well beyond cleaner air to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to more efficient combustion and the use of hybrid technology in some equipment segments. For example, Caterpillar developed a series of hybrid systems that makes the most of kinetic energy stored during the equipment’s use – like a swinging arm – to boost efficiency. 

These solutions deployed on a Caterpillar 336E excavator can boost fuel efficiency by 33 percent that translates directly to C02 reduction. In addition, hybrid systems are also available in other equipment types such as wheel loaders and material handling equipment by a long list of equipment manufacturers including Caterpillar, Case, Deere, and Volvo.

Reducing GHG emissions goes well beyond individual machines and equipment and extends to new strategies for working smarter and more productively on the jobsite. Equipment owners are already using machines that come with integrated connectivity, telematics and other strategies that enable equipment operators to precisely optimize machines to do the most work using the least amount of fuel. Whether making one pass on road grading instead of two or digging to a precise depth in faster time, minimizing power demands on equipment translates into time and fuel savings as well as lower emissions.   

Beyond land-based wind farm projects, new emphasis on off-shore wind farms being planned from Maine to North Carolina could deliver 29,000 MW of clean power. The Biden Administration announced that the massive 800 MW Vineyard Wind project can move forward in New England that will include nearly 100 enormous wind turbines miles off-shore from Martha’s Vineyard, MA. Installing off-shore windfarms requires a fleet of conventional and specialized marine vessels – tug boats, barges, and heavy construction off-shore rigging boats. Much like off-road machines and equipment, the latest near-zero emissions diesel engines are available to power these vessels. Hybrid technologies extend also to the marine segment. For example, Great Lakes Towing, operating in Lake Erie, can cut fuel consumption in half through its fleet of hybrid tugs that rely on 1,000 horsepower MTU diesel engines coupled with battery storage capabilities. This arrangement operates the engines in optimum efficiency mode as a generator and the stored power drives mechanical aspects of the boat.   

With the Biden Administration signaling intent to double wind-farm capacity, the diesel-powered marine sector is poised to meet the demand with a growing fleet of fourth-generation advanced diesel technology.      


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