Advancements in lithium ion battery technology have allowed electric lawn care equipment to become a practical and cost-effective alternative to gas/diesel-powered lawn care equipment in terms of both performance and run-time for many applications. There’s also widespread agreement that Vermonters should be doing everything possible to reduce GHG emissions. Yet, in spite of these technological advancements and the State’s ambitious GHG reduction goals, no public school district and only one Vermont college/university (UVM), one municipality (Burlington), and only one state agency (the Vermont Department of Forestry, Parks, and Recreation) are using a commercial electric lawn mower as of February 2021.
While this document focuses on the various institutional and cultural barriers that are impeding the adoption of electric lawn care equipment, it’s likely that similar barriers are impeding the adoption of other “transition technologies” by Vermont businesses, institutions, and local and government agencies/departments. Therefore, many of the suggestions offered for overcoming these barriers would likely apply to these other transition technologies as well:
1. Minimal experience with commercial electric lawn mowers: Although there are thousands of commercial electric lawn mowers operating throughout the US, to-date there’s only about thirty being operated in Vermont, so relatively few Vermonters are familiar with this technology. This barrier will be overcome simply as more electric mowers are operating around the state.
2. Resistance to change coupled with a bias against commercial electric lawn mowers by equipment operators: It’s part of human nature to resist change. And although many Vermont individuals, businesses, institutions, municipalities, and the state government agencies/departments have environmental policy goals that would seem to support the transition to electric lawn mowers, for a variety of reasons many equipment operators assume that electric mowers won’t perform as well as conventional mowers and resist this transition. These reasons include:
a. If someone assumes a louder machine has MORE power, than they probably also assume that a quieter machine has LESS power.
b. In a classic example of “perfection being the enemy of the good”, since electric mowers may not yet be available with a particular feature or option (e.g. a leaf collection system), such differences can be used as a reason, or excuse to not buy one.
c. Electric mowers have different operation and maintenance requirements. For example, rather than simply being refueled, electric mowers have a maximum possible run-time based on the number and size of the batteries and need to be plugged into a charger at the end of the day.
d. While it’s considered standard operation procedure with any lawn mower to clean out the grass from inside the cutting decks and to keep the blades sharp, this is especially important with electric mowers to ensure optimum performance and run-time.
This resistance can be overcome by obtaining independent reviews of the equipment being considered and scheduling equipment demos attended by both the operators and upper management personnel. And since advancements/improvements are continually being made in both the performance, options and run-time of electric lawn care equipment, it’s important that the evaluation process is based on the most recent model years.
3. Inaccurate and/or negative performance reviews: Since there are so few commercial electric lawn mowers operating in Vermont, there’s potential for a couple of negative reviews to have an oversized impact on the general perception of this technology. Such negative reviews could be based on the performance of older models and/or on the performance of mowers that weren’t properly maintained. Negative reviews could also be based on just rumor or hearsay, rather than on actual experience.
This barrier can be overcome by obtaining performance evaluations from a variety of sources and of the most recent models being considered, and scheduling equipment demos of the most advanced/newest models.
4. Concerns about the lack of local dealer networks: Conventional commercial mowers have always been purchased from local equipment dealers who would then provide service, parts and repairs for the mowers they sold. However, because electric mowers don’t need to be serviced, and rarely need repairs, the majority of commercial electric mowers in use in Vermont and around the country until recently were purchased directly from factories. And because this was a such an unfamiliar way to purchase commercial mowers, it represented a significant barrier to wider adoption. However, since the three major brands of commercial electric mowers are now sold by Vermont equipment dealers, this should no longer be an issue.
1. Insufficient operating cost data for conventional equipment to calculate the expected cost savings of electric mowers: Electric lawn mowers offer substantial savings in operations costs compared to gas-powered equipment, especially due to the lower cost of electricity compared to gas or diesel. However, since many institutions don’t track fuel consumption for individual pieces of equipment, these cost savings aren’t properly accounted for in the decision-making process. There are also substantial cost savings for electric mowers associated with their lower service and repair needs. But again, the life-time service and repair records for the costs of both parts and labor for the conventional mowers being replaced may not be available.
The lack of fuel cost data could be addressed by simply calculating the fuel consumption and costs for a conventional mower for specified time period (e.g. a week or month). This fuel consumption data could be calculated tracking the fuel use of a mower already in use and the fuel costs, or using average fuel consumption estimates (e.g. 1.5 gal/hour @ $2.50 per gallon). This data can then be used to estimate annual fuel consumption compared to the expected electricity consumption of an electric mower for the same number of operating hours (e.g. approximately 2.8 kW per operating hour @ $.16/kWh).
2. Higher purchase price: In spite of incentives being offered by five Vermont electric utility companies (Green Mt Power, Burlington Electric Department, Vermont Electric Co-op, Washington Electric Co-op, and the 12 utilities of the Vermont Public Power Supply Association), electric lawn mowers still cost 25% to 100% more than conventional mowers, and most of these incentives only reduce the purchase price by 3 or 4%. While these higher prices create a significant barrier, there are many ways that this barrier can be overcome, including:
a. Utilize the zero-interest loan program administered by the State Energy Management Program (SEMP) that’s available for energy conservation and renewable energy projects implemented by state agencies and departments.
b. Establish policies that require the purchase or use of equipment and/or technologies (e.g. electric lawn mowers) that produce lower GHG emissions compared to conventional equipment, whenever this equipment accomplishes the specified task without creating significant inconvenience, AND will save money over the life of the equipment compared to similar conventional equipment.
c. Modify budget and procurement processes to give preference to the lower operating and “life-cycle” costs of electric equipment. For example, due to the lower cost of electricity versus fossil fuel, and the lower service and repair costs, the use of commercial electric lawn mowers can save between $2,000 to $5,000 annually, depending on the number of operating hours, fuel costs, etc.
d. Utilize finance or “lease-to-own” programs to spread out the higher purchase price over time, which also allows the expected savings in operating costs to partially cover the finance payments.
e. When there exists electric or alternative fuel equipment that substantially reduces GHG emissions, bid documents should be written specifically for “electric” lawn mowers to ensure this equipment is not competing against conventional equipment that’s inherently less-expensive.
f. The state could offer a complete or partial sales tax exemption for equipment and technologies that reduce GHG emissions. And since this equipment and technologies will substantially decrease the amount of money spent on fossil fuel, it would be expected that such tax incentives will be revenue neutral, or even increase tax receipts due to the increase in money kept circulating within our state economy.
g. Additional incentives could be created and administered through Efficiency Vermont.
2. Contractors Are Just Beginning to Feel Pressure to Change: There are currently about five contractors in Vermont using electric lawn mowers and chore tools. And as consumers learn about the existence of electric lawn care equipment, they are starting to demand this service, which will in-turn encourage more contractors to begin the transition to electric lawn care equipment.
3. Insufficient focus on lawn care equipment to reduce GHG emissions, air pollution and noise: There’s been lots of attention focused on the need to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels by switching to electric cars, improving the thermal efficiency of buildings, expanding public transit options, and developing more renewable energy projects. Fortunately, this attention within both the private and public sectors has generated tangible results. Yet, to-date, there’s been very little attention focused on the significant amount of fossil fuel consumed by conventional lawn care equipment in Vermont, as well as the other environmental impacts of this equipment.
This barrier is already beginning to disappear as environmental organizations, state agencies and departments, citizens, and civic and business leaders are advocating for the transition to electric lawn care equipment, and for homeowners and businesses are requiring the use of this equipment by their contractors.
1. The existing 6 to 8+ hour run-time of commercial electric mowers: While the maximum run-time provided by the current generation of commercial electric mowers of around 6 to 8+ hours is completely adequate in situations where employees work a standard 8 hour day (e.g. municipal and state grounds/public works departments, schools, colleges, universities, etc.), this may not be sufficient run-time for contractors whose employees operate their mowers for more than 7 to 8 hours a day.
This barrier will disappear as battery power/run-time increases.
2. Lack of a “Powered” Leaf and Grass Collection Attachment: There are currently only three manufacturers of commercial electric lawn mowers, and only one of those offers a powered leaf collection attachment mounted on the back of the mower, which for some contractors and institutions is an important feature. This barrier will disappear as battery power/run-time increases to provide the extra power needed to operate a leaf collection attachment. However, until that time arrives, operators could conceivably use an existing gas-powered mower with a leaf collection attachment, or use blowers, rakes and tarps to collect leaves.