An Electric Future for Landscape and Lawn Care Companies

by | electric lawn care, commercial

You may have already heard the rumors of electric landscaping becoming the future standard for commercial mowing companies, but most likely this is as new to you as it was to us just a few years ago. Currently, the residential DIY marketplace is being inundated with electric options from the simple battery powered hedge trimmers to full scale battery powered lawn mowers. It’s only been in the recent years that landscaping companies have had a viable option for fully battery powered lawn care fleets. As technology advances each month, more and more lawn services are offering clients electric, quieter landscaping options.  

In this article we will cover the most common reasons behind this electric shift along with the biggest drawbacks and reasoning behind what’s keeping over 99% of lawn care providers running on gas today.   Wrapping it up we’ll divulge our forecast for the all electric future.  

 

Why make the switch to electric equipment?

  • Equipment maintenance cost reduction

    The average gas fueled commercial grade mower tends to last for upwards of 3,000 working hours yet this could be greatly extended with excellent care for higher end, well built machines. Alternatively, when not well maintained a lower end commercial mower might only last 1,000 working hours before needing a full engine replacement. Meanwhile, one of the current industry leaders in electric mowers and equipment, Mean Green Mowers, boosts that their commercial grade machines can last 6,000 to 9,000 hours. Total life of the mower is only one of the variables to consider when speaking in terms of equipment maintenance. The other factors include the actual care of the equipment. Gas powered machines require regular maintenance and often need a plethora of different parts replaced throughout their lifetime. From simple corroborator cleaning to belt replacements, the cost to maintain a gas powered machine is estimated to be twice that of its electric alternative. This still factors the costs of batteries and blade sharpening yet without the gas powered engine’s many moving parts and potential break points, electric wins in the long haul of the cost comparison.

  • Elimination of fuel costs

    Although going green may eliminate the actual costs of fuel, it does not mean you aren’t paying for power. Those batteries still need a charging source so unless you will be installing solar on your truck, trailer or equipment garage here’s the price breakdown:
    Gas powered commercial mower to cut an acre: $3.00
    Electric, battery powered commercial mower to cut an acre: $.25
    *Prices based on average gas and energy costs for the U.S.
    That’s roughly a 90% cost savings and again, if you develop solar energy into your green strategy, you can get that 25 cents down closer to a nickel.

  • Key selling point for luxury housing

    Looking to buy a condominium? Imagine seeing on the brochure that ‘quiet landscaping’ is a feature of for the complex. This is slowly becoming a factor in more upscale condos, apartment complexes and vacation rentals and certainly gives battery powered landscaping companies the ability to charge extra for this premium service.

  • Reduce labor costs

    You might think the act of pulling a cord to start an engine doesn’t take too much time and wonder how it’s even a factor here, but trust me, as someone who has worked on a landscaping crew for years, it’s not always one pull that gets the equipment going. Often times there’s need for not just a few extra pulls, but also cracking the small engine open to see what’s preventing the start. From our experience and research, the battery powered tools and mowers start on the first ‘button press’ 99% of the time throughout their lifetime.
    Next you’ve got the time it takes to stop off at the gas station and top off all the tanks. When equipment needs to be serviced it’s likely up to a crew captain to take the equipment in and explain what’s going on to make sure they don’t get over charged. Most electric lawn companies are keeping batteries charged in their trailers using inverters to draw power from the vehicles pulling them. Labor costs related to maintenance for electric equipment generally boil down to blade sharpening and weed eater string refilling.

Electric Battery powered mower, the Mean Green Mowers company, 'Rival' in use.
The Mean Green Mowers ‘Rival’ battery powered, commercial grade mower in use.
  • Eco-friendly

    This is somewhat a two-factor bonus for electric landscaping companies.

    Environmental Impact

    For one, the direct environmental impact of less emissions is a huge factor big companies that burn thousands of gallons of gas each year, emitting a large amount of emissions. A study from 2001 showed that an average sized, 4-stroke, residential grade gas powered lawn mower produced PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in just one hour equivalent to that of a driving a small car 90 miles. Battery powered equipment is not 100% eco-friendly as the batteries still need to draw power and often times this power comes from a fossil fuel based source such as coal. However, there is the option to install solar to power the batteries which really does allow the company to boast 99.9% eco-friendly services, especially in the unlikely event that even their trucks are battery powered but as only Tesla currently offers a purely electric truck, that may be a while off just yet.

    Selling Point

    The other ‘eco-friendly’ factor boils down to consumer behavior and advertising. In the recent years we have seen a shift in consumer behavior greatly rewarding environmentally friendly products and services. Landscaping companies making the swap to electric have the opportunity to be among the first in their local areas to boast ‘eco-friendly’ along within their marketing efforts.

  • Potential tax credits

    Lowering emissions may also have a tax benefit depending on the area. In certain cities in California for example, companies making the switch are eligible for rebates on purchasing authorized equipment. Santa Barbara offers up to 60% of the purchase price for electric equipment for commercial companies through their Landscape Equipment Electrification Fund (LEEF) program.

  • City ordinances and legal requirements

    Across the globe, townships are beginning to ban different types of gas-powered landscaping equipment. The primary culprit we have seen behind the push is the rather loud leaf blower, and especially the extremely powerful models such as a favorite of many commercial lawn companies; the Stihl backpack blower.

    Who’s dropping the ban hammer on blowers?

    Washington DC just passed a bill which bans the use of gas-powered blowers in 2022. Long Island, Fort Lauderdale and many others also have the potential ban of gas powered leaf blowers on the docket for 2021.

    Not all about the gas

    It is important to also mention however that in some areas, such as Fort Lauderdale, the ban may not only effect gas-powered leaf blowers, but instead all blowers as aside from the ear shattering noice, they also have environmental concerns of debris getting pushed into local waterways.

    California forces the future

    On the flip side, California isn’t just banning blowers. California is in fact considering a ban on all gas powered gardening equipment. It could even be the case that this potential outcome is the primary cause for current shortages in supply for electric powered commercial grade landscaping equipment.

  • Keep up with competition

    No company wants to fall behind, but in many areas the fear of loosing clients to eco-friendly alternatives is not yet a major concern. If your company is located within some of California’s more populated areas like San Fransisco, you are likely already offering electric lawn services and if not, you’re certainly planning to. Meanwhile, in the Tampa, Florida area there appears to be only one company that’s made the switch to electric. As more and more companies throughout the U.S. adopt this new technology we might see a tipping point where those who are still running on gas sprint towards electric to keep up with the competition. The appeal of electric, silent lawn care has also opened the door for brand new companies to enter the market and capitalize. This gap will close, so if you’re considering jumping in, don’t wait till water cools.

Why most lawn companies are sticking with gas

  • Cost to go electric

    The number one reason our research shows to be keeping companies on their gas-powered equipment comes down to costs. Weed eaters and blowers engineered for commercial purposes tend to cost just a bit more than that of their gas ran counterpart. However, it’s the batteries which must be purchased that start to stack up on costs. With batteries for hand held equipment ranging from $70 to $150, and most needing three or more to run a full day, costs can quickly add up.

    Commercial grade electric mowers are whole new level of investment for most small landscaping companies. A strong, reliable commercial grade mower ranges in costs from $3,000 to $6,000 while the electric alternative comes with a cost similar to that of a new car ranging from $10,000 to $20,000. For instances, the GreenWorks GZ48S comes in at $13k and the industry leading ‘Mean Green ‘Rival’‘ is estimated to run around $20,000 (price not publicly listed).

Mean Green Mower company's 'Rival' model.

The Mean Green Mowers ‘Rival’ electric commercial grade riding mower.

  • Cost Breakdown

    For a small-mid sized commercial landscape company to completely upgrade their fleet to run on all electric equipment, here’s the cost break down assuming they are running just two small fleets. Each fleet would likely consist of one riding mower, one smaller push mower, two blowers, two weed eaters, an edger and a hedge trimmer.
    Riding Mowers: $24,000 (low end at 12k/each).
    – Extra Batteries and charging stations: +$8,000
    Small Mowers: $1,200 (600/each).
    – Extra Batteries and charging stations: +$1,400
    Leaf Blowers: $2,000 (4 at $500 each)
    – Extra Batteries and charging stations: +$1,800
    Weed Eaters: $1,200 (4 at $300 each)
    Edgers: $600 (2 at $300 each)
    Hedge Trimmers: $600 (2 at $300 each)
    – Extra Batteries and charging stations for handhelds: +$1,800

    That comes out to $44,600 estimated total initial investment.  If this same company were to then sell their old equipment they would likely be able to recoup roughly 10k in sales. If located in an area offering rebates for electric landscaping equipment, they may be able to recoup another $5,000.

    This cost breakdown does not included the labor costs behind the acquisition, testing, training and charging station build out. All of which compile to make this task all the more costly for the company.

    It’s easy to foresee a $100,000 investment or more for medium sized landscape companies and millions for large scale operations.

    “We’ve known of the slow shift towards electric and certainly do not intend to be the last on the train. However, the costs to move our operation towards a fully electric service are too immense to be a feasible endeavor just yet. As technology advances, and the costs lessen, we do hope to begin the transition and start offering clients silent lawn care and landscaping services in 2021.”
    – Richard Wait, owner of Lawns and Palms, Inc

  • Equipment availability

    As the industry shift towards electric landscaping has already begun at the time of writing this post, we weren’t surprised to see that many of the commercial electric mowers researched were listed as ‘out of stock‘. With only a handful of small companies currently producing commercial grade electric equipment and plenty of early adopters shouldering their way in front of the pack, demand is high and supply is low. As demand rises we are likely to see the big industry companies like Toro and Husqvarna ramp up their production of electric mowers. Until that time, the gap in the market will likely remain for younger landscaping companies to capitalize.

  • If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality

    When Toys-R-Us decided to wait on building out their online marketplace, they likely had this same mentality. Seen a Toys-R-Us department store in the last five years? Yeah, neither have we. This mentality however is the second-most point we’ve heard when asking company owners why they aren’t considering electric yet. This is also one of the most concerning issues as we foresee long-standing, valuable lawn care companies slowly loosing their marketshare to other more forward thinking service providers.

An electric conclusion

Having spent decades in the landscaping industry, knowing many owners and managers, along with our clients wants and needs, it’s hard to foresee the transition to ‘all electric’ becoming an industry-wide shift in the very near future. However, certain states such as California, Oregon, New York and D.C. along with a few others are likely to make this transition within the next three years. This first wave of early adopters is likely to be a consequence of city and state regulations.

The next phase of industry shift, which has already slowly begun, is happening more due to the opening of a new market niche where brand new companies can capitalize on pitching quiet, eco-friendly lawn care. As these new companies spring up and begin to take market share, more stable companies will be forced to adapt the new technology into their service offerings.  

How far off are we from a fully electric future?  If I were a gambler, I’d imagine the safe bet would be by 2030 eighty percent of the commercial landscape industry will be running on battery power

The exciting, potentially even electric-like period will commence once a tipping point is reached as the cost to go electric is outweighed by the cost of sticking with gas.   This will begin when otherwise stable, big companies start losing too many clients to electric operations.  Supply will be stretched, and businesses will scramble to keep what they have while forward thinking younger companies are stocked, locked and loaded with electric, jolting the industry into an eco-friendly race for market share.  

 

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