Why infrastructure is the latest buzzword in battery-powered equipment

December 28, 2022 -  By
While choosing a brand of battery-powered equipment is a big decision, a bigger decision might be how to keep that equipment charged. Some choose to buy enough batteries to last all day, while others look for opportunities to recharge during the day. (Photo: American Green Zone Alliance)

While choosing a brand of battery-powered equipment is a big decision, a bigger decision might be how to keep that equipment charged. Some choose to buy enough batteries to last all day, while others look for opportunities to recharge during the day. (Photo: American Green Zone Alliance)

With rising gas prices, noise restrictions and two-stroke engine regulations, it’s no wonder some contractors are looking to electric handheld equipment and mowers for solutions.

Industry experts caution contractors that the conversion to battery-powered equipment isn’t as simple as switching a gas-powered string trimmer for a battery-powered one. The more battery-powered equipment an operation invests in necessitates more batteries and chargers. Often, green industry businesses lack the right amount of power at their shop to meet the increased demand on the grid.

To learn more about what a landscape operation should know about its power structure and needs, we spoke to Jack Easterly, global business segment manager for zero-emission landscaping at Husqvarna; Christine Potter, president of the outdoor business unit within the tools and outdoor division of Stanley Black & Decker; Paul Beblowski, product manager for Stihl’s professional battery line and Daniel Mabe, founder and president of American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA).

The first step

Paul Beblowski

Paul Beblowski

Beblowski says the importance of infrastructure is quite simple: “It supports the professional user at and beyond the job site,” he says.

Potter says the term infrastructure brings up critical questions a landscape professional should ask before transitioning to battery.

“One of the biggest things that the landscapers need to consider is, ‘Where do I charge it? How do I charge it, and when do (I) charge it?’” she says.

Easterly encourages pros to think about the electrical power available at a shop. He says many landscape companies lease properties, which complicates making the necessary upgrades to an electrical system to support battery charging.

“You may be able to charge your fleet of battery products today with existing infrastructure and what energy you have available,” he says. “However, the (electrical) infrastructure across America, Canada and even globally are not ready for the growth we are starting to see in this industry.”

This means the type of outlets needed to charge batteries or electric mowers — standard 120-volt outlets or 240-volt outlets — the number of plugs in the shop to even the amount of power coming into the shop. Easterly says this is a major challenge for manufacturers as electrification gains popularity with the mainstream public.

Know what type of charging structure you have — and amount of power going into your shop before leaping into battery. (Photo: Husqvarna)

Know what type of charging structure you have — and amount of power going into your shop before leaping into battery. (Photo: Husqvarna)

Potter notes that contractors should understand that larger electrical equipment — such as battery-powered zero-turn mowers — will have different electrical needs.

“‘How am I going to charge these?’ ‘Do I have enough service coming in from the street?’ ‘Do I need to add in additional breakers?’ And, ‘do I need to upgrade to high voltage lines?’” she suggests pros ask. Mabe says pros should not overlook that critical step in the transition to battery-powered equipment, ensuring an operation has the proper infrastructure to support the charging needs of an electric fleet.

“Pay attention to the amperage draws of setting up multiple chargers to ensure considerations for possible necessary upgrades on outlets, wiring and breakers of electrical panels,” he says.

He says good infrastructure includes proper training and safe and organized charging areas. He says it’s also critical for the industry to develop standard operating procedures when deploying battery-powered equipment.

“Supporting business enterprises and institutional operations with workforce development, training, preventative maintenance on the tools and batteries, as well as safe and organized charging areas lend to a solid infrastructure,” he says. “Creating the right standard operating culture specific to electric is critical for successful outcomes.”

Mabe led a panel at Elevate 2022 on how to set up a battery-powered landscape operation. Infrastructure was a big part of the discussion. Panelists noted, on average, battery-powered equipment could cost five times what a gas-powered tool would cost. Mabe said infrastructure, while a costly part of the transition, is a critical step.

“(Infrastructure) is well worth it and will save time, money and headaches in the future,” he says.

One of Mabe’s panelists, Roscoe Klausing, president of the Klausing Group, told Elevate attendees that infrastructure goes beyond purchasing the new equipment itself. It entails rethinking your truck and trailer setups and, in some cases, modifying them to be able to charge your equipment.

Daniel Mabe

Daniel Mabe

“Investing in infrastructure is different than purchasing handheld equipment. It’s (purchasing) all-enclosed trailers,” he says. “It’s (making) aftermarket improvements to the trailer.”

Easterly says vehicle type is another critical component professionals need to keep in mind. Does the business use dovetail-style trucks, box trucks, tow-behind trailers or enclosed trailers?

“Enclosed transportation is the best for running battery-powered products,” he says. “It protects against inclement weather, of course, and also theft. Your current assets — such as trucks and trailers — are something to also think about when it comes to overnight charging. Are you planning to bring the batteries into the shop at night for charging? Or is it something that’s permanently kept in an enclosed trailer or a box truck?”

Know your needs

Easterly says it’s also imperative for pros to understand how many batteries an operation will need. This, though, can be a bit of a challenge as not many operations track the runtime hours on gas-powered equipment. Mabe says this figure could vary, too, based on the operation’s approach.

“Some prefer to purchase enough batteries to adequately get through their entire day, and others will look for opportunity charging at client locations or charging on the go with various solar designs and backup storage batteries with inverters,” he says.

Christine Potter

Christine Potter

Potter notes contractors also need to think about the types of jobs and how a typical workday looks for crews because it may inform the type of charging structure needed when converting to battery-powered equipment.

“‘What ability do I have to charge throughout the day?’ is a good question to consider,” Potter says. “For someone who’s in that portable situation doing residential properties and going from place to place to place, it probably makes sense to load up on the batteries to take with you through the day. You never know when you’re going to have access to power. Portability is the first thing that I really try to understand when we start sizing up equipment.”

Landscape professionals also must consider the safe storage of battery-powered equipment, Mabe says. Keep in mind temperature and room ventilation for batteries, especially.

“This improves safety and can help batteries last longer from a lifecycle perspective,” he says. “Longer lasting batteries translate to positive economic outcomes and less need to recycle lithium batteries. If batteries are abused, improperly stored, charged and mishandled, they then need to be replaced more often, which leads to more unnecessary waste.”

The next part of a successful transition is understanding your environment, Potter says.

“If you’re in a more urban environment and you’re doing smaller properties, your runtime demands will be different than if you’re in large suburban areas,” she says.

Equipment selection

Mabe says it’s also critical for pros to research the type of equipment available on the market.

“AGZA recommends trying at least three different companies’ battery/electric tool platforms,” he says. “You will gain valuable feedback on which tools your workforce likes best, workload productivity vs. your gas tools, and how long the batteries last on one charge for each tool in your specific workload settings.”

Jack Easterly

Jack Easterly

Easterly says contractors also need to understand the upfront cost of battery-powered equipment.

“You’re probably going to spend 80 percent of your cost on the batteries alone,” he says. “I think a mindset shift really needs to take place, looking at batteries more like fuel. You are really buying your fuel upfront.”

While manufacturers offer different voltages of batteries, Easterly says pros need to look at watt hours to evaluate battery-powered equipment. He says, for example, to take the voltage of a piece of equipment and multiply that figure by the amps of the battery to give you the watt hours of the equipment.

For example, Husqvarna’s BLi200x battery has 36 volts (V) and 5 amp hours (Ah) and using Easterly’s equation looks something like this: 36V x 5 Ah = 180 watt hours (Wh) “That will help landscapers level set the playing field of what they are looking at,” he says.

Easterly says it’s important for operations to start small with a few pieces of equipment. He also encourages contractors to stick with one equipment manufacturer.

“Don’t mix and match,” he says. “You want to start small with your investment, and after testing different brands, select a single manufacturer’s platform.”

AGZA recommends letting the crew test three different brands of electric equipment. Their feedback is invaluable, and they are the people putting the equipment to work each day. (Photo: American Green Zone Alliance)

AGZA recommends letting the crew test three different brands of electric equipment.
Their feedback is invaluable, and they are the people putting the equipment to work each day. (Photo: American Green Zone Alliance)

Future outlook

As for the future of battery-powered equipment in the green industry, Mabe says AGZA doesn’t see any sign of interest and demand slowing down.

“We anticipate a 50 percent commercial adoption rate of some battery in operations within three to five years, if not sooner,” he says.

Beblowski agrees, saying Shil continues to see greater demand.

“Professional battery-powered product adoption continues to trend upward in the U.S.,” he says. Mabe also sees manufacturers continuing to innovate to keep up with the demand.

“Our industry is creating a lot of electrical and mechanical innovation to produce quieter and more powerful equipment powered by batteries,” he says.

Charging infrastructure, Easterly says, is also a huge focus for manufacturers.

“Infrastructure really is one of the hardest things since we don’t control it,” he says. “So in the next few years, you will see manufacturers launching solutions that can reduce, or eliminate, a landscaping company’s investment in infrastructure.”

Potter expects battery-powered equipment will one day completely power the green industry. To her it’s more of a question of when than if.

“None of us really know how soon it is going to transition, and it’s probably going to transition differently in different parts of the country, different job sites, etc.”

Christina Herrick

About the Author:

Christina Herrick is the editor of Landscape Management magazine. Known for her immersive approach to travel from coast to coast in her previous stint as senior editor of American Fruit Grower Magazine, she uses social media (Twitter/Instagram @EditorHerrick) to share her experiences on the road with her audience. Herrick has a degree in journalism from Ohio Northern University. She can be reached at cherrick@northcoastmedia.net.

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