Electric cars, whether hybrid or fully battery powered, command a small percentage of new car sales. Even so, they’re hardly a novelty on our highways anymore, and their acceptance in the market is established. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that electric vehicles will command 35 percent of new car sales by 2040.
Will electric commercial mowers follow a similar sales trajectory? Don’t bet against it as battery technology continues to advance and battery prices fall. Should the price of oil rise, the economics of battery power over internal combustion engine (ICE) powered equipment will look even better.
“Lithium-ion battery costs have already dropped by 65 percent since 2010, reaching $350 per kWh last year,” according to the Bloomberg report. “We expect EV battery costs to be well below $120 per kWh by 2030, and to fall further after that as new chemistries come in.”
To date, only one company, Ohio-based Mean Green Mowers, has had the audacity to challenge the ICE commercial cutting market with battery-powered products. While, more than a few manufacturers offer smaller corded or battery-powered consumer mowers, Mean Green offers the only alternative to ICE mowers in the production-driven contractor universe.
Mean Green introduced its first product soon after its founding in 2008, a zero-turn model powered with a lead acid battery. Aimed at the homeowner market, it created little enthusiasm from mow-for-money contractors. That began changing, however, in 2012 at the GIE+EXPO in Louisville, Kentucky, when Mean Green drew a steady stream of show goers to see and operate its commercial zero-turn mowers powered by Lithium-ion batteries (LIB).
Today, LIB technology powers the majority of electric vehicles because of its high cyclability (the number of times the battery can be recharged while still maintaining its efficiency). Most experts predict LIBs will remain the dominant battery technology for vehicles for the remainder of the decade at least. But, other technologies are just over the horizon.
To date, the initial cost of battery-powered mowers is the biggest hurdle to their wider acceptance by contractors battling for every dollar within the ultra- competitive, price-sensitive commercial cutting market. Mean Green counters by outlining the favorable ROI of their products (maintenance, fuel savings, solar tax credits, etc.) compared to similarly productive internal- combustion-engine units.
Eager to push the envelope when it comes to battery power, Mean Green this summer introduced its S.A.M. (Solar Assisted Mower) to contractors in various U.S. markets. S.A.M. is an optional solar electric canopy that can be added to the company’s commercial electric Mean Green CXR-52-inch/60-inch ZTR ride-on mower. It will almost certainly be one of the products attracting attention at this year’s GIE+EXPO Oct. 20-21.
Given the growing number of commercial-grade, battery- powered, handheld landscape products (many of which will also be featured at the 2016 GIE+EXPO) and their acceptance by contractors, the likelihood of battery-powered commercial cutting units showing up in greater numbers in production fleets is not so much a question of “if” but of “when?”
If that’s the case, what will be the next manufacturer to offer battery-powered products in the crowded commercial mower market?
Remember, it wasn’t that many years ago that many of us viewed hybrid and electric cars, now commonplace on our highways, with more curiosity than with enthusiasm.