Battery boon: Breaking down the benefits of battery-powered equipment

December 18, 2017 -  By

(Photo: Merit Service Solutions)

Electric equipment continues to prove its place in the landscape industry. Batteries last longer, equipment is lighter and more operators see these machines as comparable to gas.

Landscape contractors share the benefits, setbacks and trends for battery-powered equipment.

Making the switch

With 90 percent of his equipment being electric, Ron Rose—owner of EQ Grounds in Auburn Hills, Mich.—says it has helped set the company apart.

With $350,000 in annual revenue, the company maintains both commercial and residential properties, with 90 percent of its services being commercial. Services include maintenance, snow management and lawn care services, which are subcontracted.

EQ Grounds’ lineup of electric equipment includes a Mean Green 60-inch ZTR, 33-inch walk-behind, 48-inch ride-on and 20-inch push mowers—as well as blowers and trimmers.

He decided to rely heavily on electric mainly because of the gas and maintenance savings.

“After you pay off the equipment, there are pretty significant savings, considering you have to pay about $30 a day for one gas mower. You can run for less than $5 a day with an electric mower,” Rose says.

Electric equipment also has helped differentiate the company from its competition.

“It gives you a little bit of an advantage,” he says. “People are receptive to eco-friendly and low noise.”

Rose hasn’t seen too many major trends with electric mowers, but has noted new updates such as lighter mowing decks and improved battery run times.

To become more efficient, he’s in the process of incorporating 220V chargers. “If you charge on 110, it takes about 12 to 15 hours to get a full charge—instead of 220 where it is five to eight hours,” Rose says.

He is adapting to battery-powered equipment, but he says others in the industry aren’t as open to the change.

“It’s just a change in mindset. The way a lot of guys think is that they’re inferior machines and won’t be able to do what they need to do with them,” Rose says.

There are differences between battery-powered and gas-powered equipment, so it’s important for crews to be educated for safety purposes and to get the most from the electric machines. Manufacturers often offer videos that show how the machines should be operated. Conserving power is important with electric equipment, instead of going full throttle right away.

“Spend more time with employees, enough to put them in the mindset they need to be in to run these machines efficiently with less damage,” Rose says.

Rose and his team have been able to get close to seven hours of mowing out of their electric machines, which allows them to make it through a 10- to 11-hour day.

As for maintenance, electric equipment doesn’t require as much as gas-powered machines, and problems are easy to diagnose.

The benefits provide savings in the long run that are worth the extra upfront cost, according to Rose. “You have to make it through a season or two to see savings, since they are more expensive,” he adds.

Landing a job

For one company, adding battery-powered equipment has had a direct impact on its revenue. It’s all about providing sustainable services that align with the customer’s requests, says Jason Page, operations manager at Merit Service Solutions in Austin, Texas.

The company works with commercial, industrial and multifamily properties and provides maintenance, snow management, parking lot sweeping and repair, design/build and enhancement services.
Merit Service Solutions uses a variety of electric equipment brands, including Greenworks, Stihl, Echo and Husqvarna. Most of its battery-powered equipment are blowers. It also has some trimmers.

Adding electric equipment was mandatory for Merit to win one large account, which spans about 80 acres. The property required the maintenance company to align with its standards of not having a carbon footprint.

Sebert Landscape’s trailers are equipped with charging stations for electric trimmers, blowers and edgers. (Photo: Sebert Landscape)

The client has solar panels on all of its buildings, so those provide renewable energy for Page and his team to use.

Merit has another client who requires the electric approach, but Page recognizes this route isn’t for everyone. “But for people who care, this is a start,” he adds.

There’s definitely a different mindset with electric equipment, which requires the contractor to reteach its customers and employees. It also takes time to figure out how many hours a crew will be able to get from a battery pack, because each brand of equipment is different and temperature can affect the run time.

Manufacturers have improved the longevity of the equipment, and run times have gotten better, Page says.

Contractors also can sell electric equipment as an advantage to clients by explaining its benefits.

“Yes, there’s a little (more) cost. But, companies can roll that into the contract,” Page says.

Seeing the bigger picture

The sustainable benefits of electric equipment were especially appealing to Jeff Sebert, president and founder of Sebert Landscape in Bartlett, Ill.

The $45 million company’s services include maintenance, snow removal, sustainable landscapes, design/build and enhancements. It is 95 percent commercial, with a few residential clients.

Sebert Landscape uses Husqvarna trimmers, blowers and edgers, and it’s looking to add more this year. The inspiration for using electric machines came from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design movement.

“We call ourselves the green industry, but we’re not really green when you look at it,” he says. “This is one way we can minimize our carbon footprint. We want to provide services that are healthier for the user and people surrounding the user.”

Sebert Landscape also installed solar panels on the roofs of its trailers to recharge the equipment on the job site, allowing crews to become more
efficient.

Sebert says it’s important for contractors to build trailers that can receive a plug-in outlet and recharge batteries. He also recommends that contractors take the time to work with their staffs in the field to get their buy-in with the machines.

“There’s a fear factor,” Sebert says. “The mentality is if it doesn’t make a lot of noise, it’s not as good.”

He’s noticed manufacturers working to improve the longevity of the battery power and life. The only piece of electric equipment he says is lacking, compared to the gas alternative, is the blower.

As a whole, Sebert says it’s important for professionals to find sustainable alternatives, if they are truly the green industry.

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