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EUVs on the market can operate on lead acid or lithium batteries. Lead acid battery chemistries are appropriate in settings where the size, terrain and overall operation will not strain the batteries.
But lead acid battery technology is becoming antiquated because it offers less operating and working time, has significant power drop-off toward the end of a charge, takes longer to charge and has a much shorter cradle-to-grave life cycle compared with lithium battery technology.
Lead acid batteries also require more attention with respect to hydration and discharge maintenance. That said, lead acid batteries are less expensive upfront but might have to be replaced more frequently compared with lithium batteries. This factor means lead acid battery EUVs could end up being just as expensive as lithium battery EUVs over time.
Even though lithium batteries are more expensive upfront, they have many advantages over lead acid batteries. Typically, lithium batteries will produce three to four times as many full charge-discharge cycles as lead acid batteries, translating to increased years of use. Lithium batteries are sealed and are low-maintenance because they have battery management system circuitry that balances the cells of the battery to ensure there is no over-discharging, overcharging or overheating and that the batteries are safe to use.
Lithium batteries also come with smart chargers, which automatically shut down once the charge cycle is complete. Because these systems have no memory, lithium battery EUVs can use supplemental charging throughout the day with more meaningful percentages of charge compared to their lead acid counterparts that use trickle charging and are much slower.
Compared with lead acid batteries, lithium batteries used in EUVs maintain their nominal voltage and experience little to no drop in power toward the end of a charge. Most lithium batteries come with advanced indicators and displays that alert the operator to low battery power.
The most common myth or misconception about EUVs is that they are not as powerful as gas-powered vehicles. This is not true. Today’s EUVs boast lithium battery power, high-output brushless motors and drives, and well-built, rugged chassis that rival the performance of gas-powered vehicles.
Another misconception relates to the safety of EUVs. On rare occasions, lithium batteries have overheated and caused fires, but none of them have been accompanied by explosion or injuries to people. Gas vehicles run the same risk of fire. As it stands today, battery-powered EUVs are as safe as gas-powered vehicles. EUVs have become so efficient, dependable and long lasting that any utility vehicle fleet can be an electric fleet.
Depending on the status of the current electric infrastructure, grounds managers might need to overhaul or upgrade power to operate an EUV fleet safely and efficiently. For EUVs with battery capacities of 15 kWh and greater, an upgrade to 220/240 circuits is needed for adequate charging.
As a general rule, dedicated circuits should be wired to a minimum 20-amp breaker. Do not use chargers on circuits that share refrigerators, HVAC systems or microwave ovens. Do not plug chargers into power strips or homeowner-rated extension cords. Always seek the advice of a licensed electrician when upgrading, modifying or installing new charging infrastructure. Also make sure to set up chargers in spaces that are well-ventilated, clean, organized and separate from any materials or equipment that can spark or is flammable. Managers also need to be knowledgeable about manufacturer-recommended temperature thresholds for storing and charging batteries.
Grounds managers should brace for sticker shock and a much higher initial cost for quality EUVs. In some cases, the upfront cost can be 60 percent or higher than the cost of traditional gas-powered utility vehicles.
Significant differences also exist in pricing with EUVs with lead acid and lithium batteries. Lithium battery models can cost twice as much as lead acid models. This difference is where due diligence during EUV selection is most critical. Because a return on investment is contingent on the longevity of batteries and chargers, managers must factor in the way employees take care of the EUVs, the length and quality of warranties and unforeseen costs after EVUs are beyond the warranty period. An added cost to establish or upgrade charging infrastructure will also need to be a line item of upfront cost or future cost if added charging infrastructure is needed.
Over time, with the right EUV fleet, when properly taken care of, savings from avoided fuel costs and reduced maintenance should more than outweigh the incremental increase in upfront cost and positively impact the bottom line.
Selecting the right EUV make and model can be a complex and time-consuming process. Managers should not make the mistake of solely relying on the internet for information. Instead, they need to find a trusted source or third party and results of independent testing that has been done on the EUVs.
Managers can learn from peers who have experience initiating or phasing EUVs into their operations. But they must make sure their experience was not based on unreliable data or on the sales pitch from the manufacturer. They need to find manufacturers that allow tests of their EUVs for extended periods of time rather than relying on a one-time visit from the sales rep. An extended trial provides operators and mechanics with a meaningful testing period.
Managers should make sure the EUV’s specs match department needs when factoring in the variables, and they need to hold EUV manufacturers and reps accountable for their marketing claims and technical specifications. They also need to read and understand the warranty and the aftermarket support that the manufacturer will be provided before making the purchase.
Dan Mabe is the founder and president of the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA), www.agza.net, and has experience in grounds maintenance operations. AGZA hosts the first certification organization to train and certify professionals in advanced electric technologies and certify battery electric equipment in real world maintenance settings. Visit sustainablelandcare.org for information on online electric workforce training certificate courses.
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