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The business case for electric-powered equipment

August 15, 2023
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As contractors pursue their carbon reduction targets, one thing is clear – no single technology will take them the entire journey. Consequently, many seek a mix of carbon-reducing technologies matching their work profile. In this edition of Experts Corner, Chris Gauthier, Product Marketing Manager for Construction at SMS Equipment, looks at electric-powered equipment and outlines five reasons why it might be a wise investment.

1. The technology is proven and widely available.

1. The technology is proven and widely available.

Chris: Thanks to its wide use in mining, electric-powered equipment uses well-established technology. It is also widely available - today, there are now electric options for what I would call the core product line for construction, which includes dozers, excavators, and wheel loaders. So, when contractors are considering de-carbonizing their fleets, electric equipment is available to fill many of their niches.

2. There are many ideal applications for electric equipment.

2. There are many ideal applications for electric equipment.

Chris: Electric equipment is a better fit for many jobs. Electric machinery will be an asset if you’re a landscaper working in urban or suburban settings where noise is an issue. Other immediate applications are underground spaces where you can’t have emissions – for example if you’re putting in a water main.

On the other hand, you’re not likely to see the electric option on larger pieces of equipment, at least in the near term. I think contractors will develop incremental strategies to start with smaller equipment and expand their fleet to larger machines. The use of electrified equipment and strategies will help them win bids that might be lost with conventional equipment. A contractor could say, “for the first 1000 hours of this project, we won’t be burning any fuel.” We’re seeing more cases where this tips the balance.

3. Maintenance costs are lower.

3. Maintenance costs are lower.

Chris: As people have seen with electric cars, electric machines are much simpler mechanically than diesel-powered machines, which translates into fewer problems and maintenance issues. Basically, you’re just maintaining a battery which has a life of approximately eight years.

The maintenance management gap between diesel and electric has also widened since tier-four emission control systems were introduced. When conventional machines with tier-four are not handled properly, that can increase the number of maintenance headaches.

The only caveat is that supporting electric machines requires a different skill set, so contractors must develop that competency. A major push for skill development and expertise is currently happening within mining, so the same thing will need to occur in construction. I’m encouraged by the adoption of smart control features on construction equipment, such as automated grading. Just ten years ago, people were afraid to touch it, but today, everybody’s doing it.

4. Demonstrate your commitment to the environment.

Chris: One of the trends we’ve seen is that customers are asking contractors to submit reports on how they plan to reduce their carbon footprint, especially when working with governments or large corporations with a prominent public profile. So if you’re running an entire fleet of tier-three and tier-four diesel-powered machines, you could be at risk of being eliminated from many jobs.

5. Attract the next generation of operators.

Chris: The biggest overall challenge we hear about from contractors, of course, is the perennial problem of recruiting workers. We also know that many younger generation operators are more inclined and interested in working for a company investing in sustainability. Another factor is that electrical equipment is more attractive to operators because it is relatively quiet and produces less vibration. So if you can tell a job applicant that you’ve got 17 electric-powered machines, I think that will make a difference in your recruiting efforts.

Bottom line:

Given the wide variety of job site conditions and tasks that contractors face, the road to net zero will likely be achieved with a variety of technologies. Electric-powered machines will likely deliver an important piece of the puzzle.

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