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Panelists dispel myths, look to the future of battery-powered equipment

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Panelists share advice on making the transition to battery-powered equipment at Equip Expo. (Photo: Greenzie)
Panelists share advice on making the transition to battery-powered equipment at Equip Expo. (Photo: Greenzie)

Landscape Management’s “Electric and Alternative Fuels — Are You In?” panel at the 2023 Equip Exposition kicked off with controversy — myths about battery-powered and electric equipment.

Joel Honeyman of Bobcat, Charles Brian Quinn of Greenzie, Michael Bedell of Bedell Property Management and Steven Zbrozek of Oregon Tool discussed myths perpetuated in the industry, including that battery-powered equipment has less power, autonomous mowers will steal jobs and that landscape contractors who tried battery-powered equipment years ago think the technology hasn’t improved.

Quinn said autonomous mower technology won’t take away jobs; it will help crews boost productivity.

“The goal is to take your job openings,” he said.

Benefits

Honeyman agreed. With labor at a premium, autonomous mowers could multiply the efficiency of a one-person crew, he noted.

“Can one person be out there doing the trimming, the cleanup, all the other stuff while the mower is doing all the main work?” he said. “That is really the practical solution here — being able to have one or two or fewer people but they’re being much more productive.”

Bedell said he’s noticed maintenance savings associated with handheld battery-powered equipment.

“There’s less things to grease, less oil to change,” he said. “That wasn’t an initial reason why we made the switch but it started showing up on our budget versus actuals and then our P&L.”

Where to start

Bedell told those in attendance to look at their business — what kind of clients do they serve? What’s the proximity to a gas station or other fueling options?

“I try and let the apparent advantages of the equipment just play out,” Bedell said.

He said if his company has a job in Northern Michigan, it might not be the right fit for battery. But, properties in cities with smaller lots and more idle time are prime for battery-powered equipment.

“That’s actually where we found a lot of the wins for battery-powered equipment in our business,” he said.

Honeyman told attendees to start small and pick a property that’s set up for success.

“If you’re going to have this first piece of electric equipment, go to a customer who you think is going to value this — there might be someone who’s complained about noise before,” he said. “You might find out you’re going to get more business in the future because they’re valuing it. It’s not for every application; it’s not for every customer. Be selective when you start out to think about how you can be successful.”

Greenzie’s Quinn talked about how critical employee buy-in is to success.

“We tell our customers there are three things: It’s the right people, the right plan and the right properties,” he said. “Those three things are going to make or break it.”

Next steps

Zbrozek said beyond taking that first leap into battery-powered equipment the next is to think about how to scale. Attendees that added battery-powered equipment need to think about the type of battery system, charger types, setup and whether to charge overnight or in a trailer.

“Scale out from when you’ve convinced everybody (on your team) to try it and they come back raving about what it is you got them to try,” he said. “Then how are you going to expand it?”

Honeyman expanded on Zbrozek’s point.

“If you don’t have 50-amp service today, you’re going to want that so you can charge faster,” he said. “You’re going to want to start planning that now. And just even if you don’t buy anything today, it’s like, well, where would I put all this stuff? Where would I put batteries? There’s a bit of logistics as you start to think about this.”

Zbrozek said attendees who are hesitant to add battery-powered equipment are missing out.

“We’re at a point in the market for these types of equipment where there’s good enough and then there’s optimized,” he said. “When you start taking those little baby steps, figuring out how it works for you, optimizing it for your specific business, you only have stuff to gain. You have nothing to lose from this because what you fall back on is always good enough.”

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