Electric turfcare machinery is, as we know, the future of the industry, it's the reality we're moving towards. Many greenkeeping professionals are understandably concerned about how this will impact their business, especially economically. Here, Lee Rowbotham, service manager at Reesink UK, the UK distributor of Toro Commercial products, the manufacturer who was pioneering in making battery-powered machinery a reality for the turfcare industry, considers the comparisons and crunches the figures.
The Workman GTX Lithium-Ion utility vehicle from Toro is the largest lithium-ion model in its class, so it can handle big jobs with ease
The technology and the products have been in use in real life situations in the UK for long enough for distributor Reesink UK to be able to put doubts to rest about the true cost of ownership of electric turfcare machinery.
Diesel vs Electric
There will always be a role for both petrol and diesel machinery, that goes without saying, but what we're seeing is a spearheading in the journey of electric-powered machinery. We're now at a stage
in the evolution of the technology that the cost of buying electric equipment is much more achievable, and with the recent economic downturn and the cost of petrol/diesel hitting an all-time high, they're reaching a peak.
Long gone are the days when electric machinery was so expensive to buy up-front, only the very wealthy few could afford them. Not only that, but their performance and build quality also left a lot to be desired.
Nowadays, the cost of buying electric equipment has gone down significantly, and with the cost of petrol hitting an all-time high, electric power has become much more appealing. Performance has also improved to the point where most of these machines can be as good as the diesel units or even better in certain aspects: manoeuvrability, drivability, automation, connectivity, and lightness of materials that make it kinder to turf. Not to mention the environmental benefits like quiet operation and lack of emissions and no hydraulic fluid leaks.
But how much will it cost?
Left: The all-electric Toro Greensmaster e1021 - one of the quietest and most efficient pedestrian greens mowers Right: Toro's all-electric riding greensmower, the eTriFlex 3370
First, there are two sides to consider: the ownership cost and the operating cost. Or, in simple terms, the cost of buying and keeping a machine in the fleet (including purchase price, taxes, cost of borrowing, insurance and residual value at the end of its life) versus the costs of fuel, maintenance, repairs, tyres and parts of that machine.
This means the purchase price is much less of a consideration, as a lower purchasing cost may suffer from higher maintenance costs and vice-versa. Plus, you must factor in productivity, as two machines with equal operating costs may work differently and produce very different results. Still confused? Let's break it down.
Ownership cost vs operating cost
The cost of ownership allows you to work out not just the costs, but the profits from the machine - something easily achieved by working out production, cost-per-hour and cost-per-unit.
Ownership costs decrease the more hours the machine works, while operating costs work the other way around: they start small and tend to grow as the machine is used. At one point, these two values combined produce the lowest total cost per hour, making up the 'economic life' of the machine (this is different from its 'physical life').
Why it's important
By collecting data, you are more equipped to make informed decisions about the best way to acquire and manage your fleet. With the arrival of electric, hybrid and even autonomous machines, the cost of ownership will naturally decline as components become more common and thus, more available.
This number is already 20 percent lower for BEV (battery electric vehicles) than for ICE (internal combustion engine) machines, and the operating cost as well. The only downside is the up-front cost, which is still higher than those of ICE machines.
However, the strict regulations imposed around the world, more specifically from the EU and China, regarding nitrogen oxides and particulates, are already a big proponent towards electric adoption, as these machines will make it much easier to achieve these emissions and noise-pollution standards.
There is still a long way to go for mass acceptance of this new reality, but make no mistake: it's slowly but surely catching up in the industry and those unaware of what it all means may very well be left behind.
Calculating the figures
Electric turfcare equipment is powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and the electricity required to charge them is less than most people think - between 35 and 120 volts. It's easy to track how much energy is consumed from the batteries via the info centre on the machine, and knowing how much you pay for a unit of kWh will enable you to work out how much it costs to charge.
If we look at an electric-powered greens mower, with a fully charged battery pack (10.77kWh) that uses 70 percent of its energy to cut all 18 greens, then around 7.5kWh is taken from the batteries. Most chargers are 90 percent efficient, so to charge the battery back to full capacity means it will take around 8.29kWh from a mains supply - 8.29kWh times £0.28 per kWh equals £2.32 per charge.
Left: The Greensmaster eTriFlex 3370 delivers the future to the fine turf sectorRight: Lee Rowbotham, service manager at Reesink Turfcare
If we take this amount and divide it by the hours taken to cut the greens (let's say, three hours), we get an hourly running cost of £0.77 per hour. Thus, a diesel engine cutting 18 greens, using approximately 5.25 litres of red diesel at £1.09 per litre, would cost around £1.91 per hour.
When it comes to efficiency, there are significant differences. A petrol engine is approximately 40 percent efficient, and diesel 60 percent efficient at converting fuel into mechanical energy. A large proportion of the available energy is wasted as heat. There are also additional losses of the hydraulic system on top of the engine efficiency. Whereas an electric motor can be over 85 percent efficient at converting electrical energy into mechanical energy.
A combustion engine/hydraulic machine is a three-step process: first, chemical energy from fuel is converted to mechanical energy, which is then converted to hydraulic energy (flow and pressure) and then back to mechanical energy at the hydraulic motor. Every time the energy is converted, more losses are introduced.
An electric machine is only a two-step process: the battery's chemical energy gets converted to electrical energy, which is then converted to mechanical energy at the motor.
Some of the cost savings of electric versus combustion engine/hydraulic machines are down to how the energy is used: an electric machine only uses energy when one of the systems is doing work. If it's standing still with the key on, very little energy is used - just a small amount to run the control system.
Electric turfcare equipment is powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and the electricity required to charge them is less than what most people think
However, on a combustion engine/hydraulic machine, as long as the engine is running, the hydraulic pumps are always pushing oil around the machine's circuits, even if it is standing still and no work is being done. This can use a considerable amount of fuel just to run the system over the machine's lifetime.
When it comes to maintenance costs, electric machines don't have motor oil, spark plugs or filters to change - all they require is cutting units maintenance to keep the machine in optimal condition. Diesel mowers, on the other hand, have a lot more moving parts and therefore require more maintenance, servicing and repairs.
Of course, in time the battery in the electric mower will need replacing, but with a lifetime of approximately seven years (depending on operating conditions), this is little bother.
Taking all of this into account, the upshot is that electric machinery, although usually more expensive to buy upfront, boasts lower running and maintenance costs that will even out some of the costs of ownership in the end.
Also worth considering is that the purchase price will likely come down as these units and their components become more and more common. And, with increase in demand and technological advancements, there will soon come a time when this cost will rival those of current diesel machines, making that initial investment no longer a problem.
Toro's electric machinery options
Toro launched its first hybrid option back in 2011 with the Toro Greensmaster TriFlex Hybrid 3420 riding greensmower, but its breakthrough happened in 2020 with the Greensmaster eTriFlex 3370: the industry's first lithium-ion battery powered ride-on greensmower. Being one of the quietest ride-on greensmowers on the market, it allows customers to respond to business demands for increased revenue by cutting earlier and therefore delivering earlier surface availability to customers. It has become a firm favourite and will likely continue to be a staple in many greenkeeping businesses all over the world.
Since then, Toro has made other electric turfcare machinery and vehicle options available, and will continue to invest in research and development to produce more, all of which will not only make your business more sustainable but also more productive.
To talk to someone about Toro technology and how the Toro range could suit your course, call 01480 226800.