The buzz on electric equipment

August 29, 2018 -  By
Man on a mower (Photo: LandCare Pasadena)

More mowers Expect to see more manufacturers entering the electric zero-turn mower space, experts say. (Photo: LandCare Pasadena)

When Greenworks Commercial unveiled its Lithium Z mower line this summer, the manufacturer joined Mean Green Mowers in the commercial zero-turn electric mower market.

This segment was bound to gain a competitor. Shipments of electric outdoor power equipment products (both corded and cordless) are projected to see a 51 percent growth rate from 2015 to 2019, according to data from the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) presented by Greenworks at the Lithium Z launch event in July.

Joe Conrad, president of Mean Green Mowers, says the demand for electric has significantly increased since he rigged his first electric mower with a lead acid battery in 2008.

In 2013, Mean Green produced fewer than 100 mowers, Conrad says. Next year, he projects the company will produce 800 mowers—including commercial zero-turn and walk-behind models—to be sold through more than 60 dealers throughout the U.S. The mowers are particularly in demand on college campuses, city parks and federal parks districts—areas that see plenty of foot traffic and need quieter equipment with zero emissions, he says.

Handheld equipment and walk-behind mowers are growing segments, says Kris Kiser, president and CEO of OPEI, which represents all outdoor power equipment manufacturers, both gas and electric.

OPEI has yet to begin aggregating data on electric zero-turns, but Kiser says electric equipment in general is increasing in popularity because of advances in battery power.

“What we’ve seen with the development of lithium ion battery technology is the ability to store more power than we’ve been able to before,” Kiser says.

The Greenworks Lithium Z line—which includes a 48-inch stand-on mower and a 60-inch ride-on mower—provides a run time of 6 hours and 4.5 to 5 hours, respectively. Mean Green’s mowers offer a continuous run time of 6 to 7 hours for its ride-on zero-turns, depending on the model.

Typically, the first products to enter an equipment segment are expensive, Kiser says. Mean Green zero-turns range from $13,299 to $22,999, depending on the model and battery package. Greenworks Lithium Zs are priced at $22,500 for the stand-on and $25,000 for the ride-on.

The battery power is a large portion of the cost of battery-powered equipment, and as Tony Marchese, director of independent retail for Greenworks Commercial, noted at the Lithium Z launch event, a landscape contractor has to consider that he’s buying his fuel upfront with the cost of the battery.

The upfront cost aside, Marchese sees that electric equipment could be a useful selling point for landscapers. “There are some landscape contractors who are using (electric equipment) as a marketing tool to be all ‘green,’ and it really differentiates them from guys that are all gas,” Marchese says.

Marchese expects other manufacturers to enter the commercial electric zero-turn space soon because municipalities and property owners desire low-impact, low-noise and zero-emissions products on their properties.

Additionally, Greenworks is working on integrating GPS technology into its smart batteries for handheld equipment and creating an app to track battery life and productivity—and this technology will be integrated into the zero-turns as well, Marchese says. The company is also planning to add more deck sizes to the Lithium Z line, and it’s considering creating electric versions of aerators, overseeders and snow products, he says.

Marchese says industry members will see how electric power is moving forward at this year’s GIE+EXPO trade show in October.

“Louisville will have more new products, and next year, I think you’re going to see a significant step forward for the industry around the electrification of traditional gas products,” Marchese says.

Electric in the field

In June, Stephen Pieloch, account manager at LandCare’s Middlesex, N.J., branch, began transitioning his equipment on a large pharmaceutical client’s site to all electric equipment—including a 52-inch walk-behind and a 48-inch zero-turn electric mower, both from Mean Green Mowers.

The 110-acre campus required the shift to electric equipment because the client wanted to maintain air quality inside the building, and multiple air intake vents surrounded the property. The client also was concerned about how gas fumes and noise would affect the safety of the 2,000 employees moving around the property.

“With the electric equipment, it (sounds like) a fan running when the blades are on,” Pieloch says. “It’s for the client’s safety, but also for ours. We can see and hear people talking to us when we’re on the (electric) machines.”

LandCare has a shop on the client’s property dedicated to storing and charging its electric equipment, which is a major reason why the company switched. One of the main drawbacks to electric zero-turns currently is the inability to charge on the go, unless a contractor opts to tow and plug into a generator or there is a charging site available.

“If I had to pull a trailer, I probably wouldn’t have gone the electric route,” he says.

Greenworks is addressing the on-the-go charging issue for handheld equipment by rolling out a six-battery rapid charger later this year. It’s also teaming up with Solar Lawn Technologies on a solar-panel-lined truck, designed to recharge 82-volt lithium ion tools from any location. The truck is currently in the beta testing stage.

Cody Martin, branch manager of LandCare Pasadena, integrated electric zero-turns three years ago for one of his clients, the city of South Pasadena. The city had discussed becoming a green city with the American Green Zone Alliance.

“As their landscaping partner, we agreed to make that switch with them,” Martin says. LandCare Pasadena maintains 55 acres for the city, about half of which is turf, including 12 acres of sports fields.

In LandCare’s Pasadena shop, the charging areas for its two Mean Green mowers have been specially hard wired for 240 volts instead of the standard 120 to decrease charging time for the company’s two 60-inch zero-turn mowers. A typical charge takes 10 to 12 hours, with a run time of 6 to 8 hours.

As far as downsides to the equipment, Martin says that production rates are the biggest concern, noting they decrease when crews mow lower than the standard cut for sports fields or during the heavy growing season.

On the plus side, using electric equipment has opened up conversations with potential clients. Martin also mentions the cost advantages to going electric, such as not having to do preventive maintenance related to gas-powered equipment, such as changing oil or oil filters.

“I do feel like there is a push toward all electric,” he says, “but I don’t think it’ll fully happen in the next decade.”

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the managing editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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