“IT’S ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE!” THE DOCTOR yells in the classic film, Frankenstein, as he revives his monster from the dead. Luckily, that’s just fiction. However, in real life, you can use electricity, too. But hopefully you’ll use it in a more responsible (and profitable) manner than the doctor.
Only a few years ago, using alternative fuels to power your mowers might have sounded like an equally monstrous idea. But you shouldn’t head for the hills just because it’s different. Like most contractors, you’ve been using mowers that have proven themselves over the years. Nobody blames you for sticking with what you know and are comfortable with.
However, you should at least be aware of innovations, like alternative fuels and battery-powered mowers. These can really move your business to another level. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with adding something a little different to your services; it sure set Dr. Frankenstein apart. Maybe it can do the same for you.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One thing you know for certain is that your gasoline mowers work. They get the job done. Just because something works, though, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t something better.
How much do you spend on fuel per year? Or per month, even? How much maintenance is involved? And what is your contribution to helping the environment? Think about it. You have lots of choices now—from mowers using propane or CNG, to those that are battery-operated.
For this article, we’ll stick to electric mowers—more specifically, battery-powered electric mowers. Most, if not all, mower manufacturers are looking into battery-operated technology. With the push for ‘green’ standards and gas prices rising, anything that can save you money while adding efficiency is something worth looking into.
By using batteries, or other electric technologies, you’ll spare yourself grief at the pump. Instead of going to the gas station, you can recharge the batteries right there at your truck, or offsite if you choose, and have backups ready to go. The potential fuel savings are enormous, especially if you maintain a relatively large fleet of mowers.
To make it simple, though, let’s break things down a bit. According to one source, the average cost of electricity is $0.12 per kilowatt of energy. The average gallon of gas costs $3.50; tack on oil, another $0.25, and you’re at $3.75. If you figure that the average mower will see around 600 hours of use per year, that’s $2,250 just to run one gasoline mower. The annual cost of running a battery-powered mower: $72. Still sound crazy?
“With battery-powered mowers, there’s almost no routine maintenance,” says Joe Conrad, president of Mean Green Mowers in Hamilton, Ohio. “You don’t have belts or pulleys. And each blade has its own motor, which means there’s no engine. This saves you big because there’s no oil, spark plugs, oil filters, air filters, or hydraulic fluid to purchase and maintain.”
After fuel, your first thought is probably dependability. But if you’re concerned that battery-powered mowers aren’t as reliable as gas models, don’t be. “They compare very closely with gas,” says Conrad. “We built these to be very powerful. If you get into thick grass and the blade starts to slow down, the mower adds more power to keep the tip speed up.”
Beyond performance or savings, these mowers glide through the grass in a nearly silent state. With battery-power, you can reduce mowing noise by half, if not more. Not only will your clients thank you, but your crews will be glad as well.
“The reduced noise is not only nicer for the workers, but for everyone around—the general public, the customers, anyone in the area,” says Conrad. “It’s especially helpful for contractors who work around high-traffic areas, like schools, banks and restaurants.”
Going green also means new sales opportunities. Most businesses, especially large corporations, are interested in reducing their emissions and demonstrating a commitment to sustainability. Not only can you charge more for your green services, but you’ll find that many new opportunities open up to you as a result of your new offering.
In the past few years, some innovative landscape contractors have start-up operations that offer fully green services. These companies use low emission or emission-free equipment. For them, clean power isn’t simply a phrase, it’s their brand identity. Many of these firms are getting established in the residential field by recognizing this lucrative niche in the market. Let your clients know that you offer a sustainable package.
Although propane, by most experts’ judgments, reduces emissions by 20 to 50 percent, battery mowers will cut that to zero emissions. With batteries, your top concern will be keeping the charge going. As long as it’s filled with juice, you can keep on mowing and save money at the pump.
However, battery-operated mowers do have their own problems. Most of the products are made for the residential market. They’re not made to stand up to heavy-duty work. These are the forerunners.
One piece of equipment, made specifically for the commercial cutters, has been gaining traction and some attention. Mean Green Mowers has developed a battery-powered mower that will work six to eight hours a day without a charge. Their claim to fame is that they use lithium batteries.
While the initial expense might be high, these batteries boast longer run times and hold their voltage better than most other options. “Being lithium, they’ve got a really high life cycle, so they can be run anywhere from six to eight thousand mowing hours before they even lose 20 percent of their total capacity,” says Conrad.
How much interest is there in battery-operated, commercial-grade lawn mowers? Quite a bit, from what we gather.
The South Coast Air Quality Board in Southern California has purchased a number of these mowers. They are offering them to school districts, municipalities, and a few landscape contractors—and they’re giving them rebates, too.
Recently, this machine was demonstrated to the National Parks Department in Washington, D.C. In addition, a number of landscape contractors are purchasing them to add to their fleets. One of the larger landscape maintenance companies has purchased several machines. They know that it costs a little more upfront, but they crunched the numbers, and it looks very promising from an economic viewpoint. It should add up to a much better bottom line.
Investing in battery-powered mowers isn’t just an investment in the future; it makes sense financially, too. “The numbers work out pretty well,” says Conrad. “You can finance one of our mowers and actually save almost twice as much money and fuel as it costs you for your monthly payment, so you end up paying less money out of pocket from day one. It works out pretty well with the financing.”
And in case you thought Dr. Frankenstein was the only one with some truly mad ideas, think again. Some innovative mower manufacturers out there have begun testing solar panels on battery-powered mowers. While you’re cutting the lawn, these mowers are charging up, push by push, as you chop each blade of grass.
Until the light bulb was invented, oil lamps lit your home. It won’t be long before battery-operated and alternative-fuel-powered lawn mowers take the lead and light up the green industry.