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Another challenge in replacing gasoline-powered equipment with electric equipment is the imbalance in performance. While some electric equipment performs virtually the same as gasoline equipment, other equipment does not match the performance of their combustion-engine counterparts.
“The chainsaws are just not there yet,” Viola says. “It’s fine if you’re doing a little bit of limbing and things like that. But to the guys that are really beating on their saws for eight hours a day, they’re just not ready to give up on their bigger, gas-powered, 30-inch-blade saws. They’ll say about the electric ones, ‘Well, if the battery dies halfway through the cut in the tree, it can leave me in a lot of danger,’ so they’re more apt to still want to use the gas ones.”
Overcoming uncertainties about electric equipment requires patience and understanding.
“We have to know that it may take a little longer to blow an area because the blowers don’t have the CFM (cubic feet per minute) power that a gas-powered blower would,” McNeal says. “There is an adaptation to overcome with the deliverable and the expectation. But I think they’re here, and they’re staying, and that’s the direction we’re going, so we do need to embrace them.”
University of California-Irvine Health (UCI Health) is all in on electric equipment. Joe Brothman, the organization’s director of facilities and general services, says his department has replaced close to 80 percent of its gasoline-powered equipment with electric equipment.
“I’m totally satisfied and impressed with the conversion,” he says. “I’m a big advocate, and we’re really hoping to convert whenever the return is there.”
The facility’s goal is to not just continue converting grounds equipment but to do the same for combustion equipment used by UCI Health’s facilities and support.
“There are some trends in the industry that soon everyone’s going to have equivalent-powered devices with batteries that make them comparable to their gasoline or combustion counterparts," Brothman says. “Some companies are further along. I think it depends on what people are looking for, but there are great options out there.”
To encourage the switch to battery-powered equipment, managers can consider federal and state incentives, including grants, loans, rebates and tax credits. California, which last year announced a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, offers a program in which a gasoline-powered blower could be exchanged for an electric unit of equivalent size.
While upfront costs for battery-powered tools might be higher than those for gasoline-powered tools, managers are finding the increases in the machines’ reliability and decreases in downtime help lower operational costs. That is a benefit for facilities that use machines year-round for mowing grass, trimming trees and doing other landscaping tasks.
“I think that’s the return on the investment,” Brothman says. “We’re using the equipment literally every day, except for maybe some weekends. It needs to be extremely reliable and very durable, but that lowers the operational cost. So even though it’s more expensive, we see it lasting longer and being a better investment for staff.”
Managers are at varying points of the transition from gasoline to electric. No matter where they are in the transition, McNeal says it’s important to “champion the fact that our manufacturers are doing all they can to help support this shift that’s on the horizon, that we’re already in the middle of, because it is coming.”
As the revolution continues, many managers are still venturing into uncharted waters with the new equipment.
“There’s always the fear of the unknown,” Viola says “‘Is this going to work and is it going to be reliable and am I spending my money properly?’” We learned the hard way with that mower we bought a few years ago. We were just a little ahead of the times. I guess what needs to happen is we all just keep having to purchase (battery-powered equipment), use it and give feedback to the manufacturers so they can keep improving the products. Then, long term, it’s just going to be better for everybody.”
Frank Rigas is a freelance writer based in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
The Benefits of Battery Power Grounds Equipment