As gas prices hit $4 a gallon in 2012, Sebert Landscape was looking for an alternative to gas to reduce costs, cut down on noise and lessen its carbon footprint. So when commercial electric equipment became a viable option, the Bartlett, Illinois-based company jumped at the opportunity.
“It was about doing the right thing and, of course, if we could help reduce our energy costs, that was a benefit for us and create a healthier way of doing our work,” says Jeff Sebert, owner.
But Sebert needed to find an efficient way to charge all of those battery packs. Since the company’s LEED-certified headquarters has solar panels, they decided to put the panels on the trailers to power equipment in the field.
“We knew immediately with the battery-powered equipment, we had to have on-board charging for that because you can’t have them go dead halfway through the day,” says Ralph Meyer, fleet manager.
The company built its first prototype in 2012 and crews really started rolling out in retro-fitted solar trailers the year after. Employees were a little reluctant at the start, but now they’re embracing the technology.
“At first, they really didn’t like electric because it impeded their efficiency and that frustrated them. But, as the equipment gets better and more powerful, and the battery power is getting longer, they’re actually finding it to make them more productive, so they’re really embracing it and they’re really starting to like it,” Meyer says.
One branch liked the electric equipment so much, it requested five more solar-powered trailers and Sebert happily delivered.
Now with 16 operating trailers, the company is still improving on the technology. Every time they retrofit another trailer, they try to make it a little more efficient and cost-effective, and lessen the footprint to take up less space in the trailer.
The first solar system cost about $10,000, but by switching to a smaller inverter, it’s down to about $5,000 now. “We actually cut our power source capacity in half,” Meyers says. “We basically went through the learning curve of understanding how much we need and how long lasting. We overbuilt it to start with and we kind of knew that but we didn’t want our crews to run out.”
On the mower side, Sebert made the switch to run on 90 percent propane around the same time it started using electric handheld equipment. Sebert says it reduces carbon, leaves less wear and tear on the equipment and in the end, it’s better for both the operator and those around the crews.
Plus, Meyer says, upkeep is much easier. There are no repair costs for things like spark plugs, air filters and recoils, and there are no carburetor problems. Crews don’t have to worry about spilling gas or priming, choking and starting equipment
“The guys with the battery powers grab it and walk out of the trailer and they’re working,” he says. “There is increased efficiency. There’s no doubt about it.”
Crews can also start earlier in the morning without having to worry about noise disrupting residential areas.
Sebert says other companies in the area have been asking about their system, and if fuel prices rise again, he thinks more companies will jump on board.
“I think the manufacturers need to give us more options to be able to provide for the systems we’re building because it’s not the most simple thing in the world to do and the average landscaper probably isn’t going to undertake this initiative but I think in the long run it’s green, it’s going to save money over the gas you’re purchasing,” he says.
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