Photo credit: Erik Mclean

by Jamie Banks, MSc, PhD, President, Quiet Communities Inc.

A recent piece from NPR discusses some of the barriers landscaping professionals face when considering the purchase of battery electric lawn mowers. These mowers, powered by lithium-ion batteries, are quieter, cleaner, simpler, and easier to use and can make for an attractive economic proposition when properly operated, charged, and stored. But the upfront premium, certain operational limitations, and battery issues also need to be considered.

Savings and Other Benefits

Much of upfront premium paid for commercial electric mowers can be attributed to the cost of lithium batteries. For smaller mowers, getting through multiple clients a day may require multiple batteries. Large mowers, like the Mean Green mower mentioned in the NPR piece, are expensive machines with powerful, long lasting lithium batteries that enable upwards of seven hours of run-time per day. The cost of these mowers can range between $30,000 to $50,000 each vs. $15,000 to $40,000 for a comparable gas mower.

So, “is it worth paying more for the electric mower than a comparable gas mower?” This requires comparing the total costs of each. The purchase price of the electric mower includes the mower, but it also includes the “fuel” for the mower – that is, the battery. The simpler electric mower also requires considerably less maintenance.

Lifetime cost analyses conducted by the American Green Zone Alliance and Quiet Communities and others show that the incremental premium paid upfront for the commercial mower is compensated within three-to-five years by savings from avoided fuel and less maintenance. After reaching a return on investment, substantial savings accrue to the owner’s bottom line year after year. The caveat is that proper education and training are needed to avoid equipment abuse, ensure safety, and optimize work productivity.

In addition to savings, electric equipment offers reductions in noise, emissions, and fuel spillage that are beneficial to both health and environment.

Help is Needed

Investing in commercial grade battery electric mowers may require a large capital investment inaccessible to many small businesses. Financial subsidies in the form of rebates, tax credits, and the like–similar to those afforded the solar and electric vehicle industries–are needed for an equitable transition. Education and training are needed to realize the full economic promise of electric technology.

Other Considerations

The performance and work production of quality commercial grade electric mowers are generally comparable to gas mowers. Conditions, like moist turf or warm season grasses, can slow mowing with electric but any losses in work productivity are negligible when operational cost savings are considered.

The landscaping industry also faces supply chain issues when it comes to electric equipment. According to Dan Mabe, president of AGZA, “the outdoor power equipment industry must compete with electric vehicles, solar, and other industries for the same components – lithium cells.” Expectations of speedy delivery of tools and components must be tempered by this current reality.

Last, retrieval, repurposing and recycling solutions need to be better developed–-not only for the lawn and garden products but also for other lithium battery-powered products, like electric vehicles.

Regardless of its challenges, the landscaping industry is moving forward with a transition away from fossil fuels.

Quieter, cleaner land care will contribute to a healthier and better world and even a more profitable one!