Expert Q&A: How electric construction equipment can help your bottom line

By Jenny LescohierApril 19, 2022

Lars Arnold, electromobility product manager for North America, Volvo CE

Volvo CE has been at the forefront of the trend toward electrification of construction machinery since it began. With several electric models already on the market and more in the pipeline, the company shows no signs of lifting its commitment to a more sustainable future of equipment ownership. Still, some owners and operators remain skeptical.

To dig into the benefits electric equipment can offer and clear up any concerns over what’s needed to make it work in your fleet, we talked with Lars Arnold, electromobility product manager for North America, Volvo CE. Following is what he had to say on those topics.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: How would you summarize construction equipment’s evolution toward electrification, and Volvo CE’s role in it?

Arnold: We pride ourselves on driving industry transformation to combat climate change. In addition to it being the right thing to do for society, it’s good for customers. Governments are increasingly enacting clean air laws and project owners are putting sustainability targets into their RFPs. Contractors need machines that can help them meet these requirements, and we are happy to provide solutions.

Volvo CE is the first company to commercialize fully electric machines at the larger end of the compact size range with our 2.7-ton ECR25 Electric excavator and 1.25-cubic-yard L25 Electric wheel loader. We’ve also committed to developing only electric versions of our compact equipment going forward.

Two more electric compact excavator models and another compact wheel loader are coming later this year, and we have a mid-size wheeled excavator electric prototype.

We’re also working on an app called Electric Machine Management Application (EMMA). This is an app that provides real-time insight into a single electric machine or an entire fleet, including battery status and geographic location. Fleet managers can simply use the application from any internet-connected device, helping them manage the charging process more efficiently and maximize machine uptime.

We are also looking into the electrification of other machine types. Electrifying larger machines remains a challenge, but it’s one we’re actively seeking solutions to. Full-sized models will likely be a mix of diesel, hybrid and electric by the end of this decade.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: What are the big-picture benefits electric equipment can offer, as well as some ‘grassroots’ advantages that equipment owners/users can see on a day-to-day basis?

Arnold: The main goal of electric equipment — and a goal it certainly achieves — is to reduce emissions and the use of fossil fuels. In the case of Volvo

Volvo CE recently introduced three new electric compact machines – the L20 Electric, EC18 Electric and ECR18 Electric – bringing its stable of electric models up to five, the largest in the constuction industry

electric equipment, we’ve reduced emissions to zero. As sustainability requirements and goals become more prevalent, so will the need for solutions like these machines.

Fully electric machines are also much quieter than diesel equipment, which allows crews to work at night or in populated areas where there are noise regulations. Also, there is no engine-related maintenance because there’s no engine, so that makes overall maintenance much easier and less expensive.

Electric machine owners may also be able to expand their offerings. Indoor jobs, food production facilities, high-dust environments and other applications where combustion engines and diesel fumes are a problem may now be open to them with electric machines.

Finally, it’s important to note that with the Volvo electric machines, performance and specs are comparable or better to their diesel counterparts. So customers get all the benefits I just mentioned and the same performance they’re used to.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: What can you say to those who argue that electric equipment is more expensive to buy?

Arnold: Electric machines have a higher purchase price right now, but buyers should consider the total cost of ownership. How much will they save on fuel, reduced maintenance and extended component life? Plus, as mentioned earlier, an electric machine could add more value in the long run because users can now bid on emission- and noise-restricted jobs, as well qualify for other niche applications where conventional diesel machines aren’t welcome.

Residual value is another consideration. With diesel equipment, operating time is defined by the engine runtime, and a lot of those hours are counted while the machine is idle. With electric machines, as soon as the operator stops working (like waiting for a pipe to be placed in a trench he’s just dug), the motors turn off and no operating hours are accumulated.

So when you think about it, jobs that can rack up 10,000 hours on a diesel machine might only add 6,000 or 7,000 hours to a comparable electric machine. These saved hours mean lower operating costs, and in turn lower total cost of ownership. They help improve resale value too.

The lifetime of battery-electric components should be equal to or better than that of the diesel engine on a conventional machine. Volvo CE conservatively estimates that users will see 35% savings in maintenance cost and time over the life of the machines we offer. And our six-year warranty for electric components provides some extra peace of mind.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: How does electric equipment compare in performance to traditional, diesel-powered equipment?

Arnold: Anecdotally, we are hearing that users are pleasantly surprised at how comparable the performance is between electric and diesel. There’s really no sacrifice.

More specifically, the ECR25 Electric compact excavator has a digging depth of 9 ft, 1 in and a breakout pound-force of 5,020. With the recommended 240-volt charging setup, it can be fully recharged in six hours. With an off-board DC fast charger, it can reach 80% capacity in less than an hour.

The L25 Electric compact wheel loader has a full-turn tipping load of 3.7 tons, a dump height of 8.2 ft and a 4,409-lb payload capacity. It can be fully charged overnight, and with an off-board fast charger, it can reach 80% capacity in about two hours.

The few exceptions are a slight increase in continuous motor power and a marginally higher operating weight for the ECR25 Electric excavator. And for the L25 Electric wheel loader, it too has a marginally higher operating weight and a higher static tipping load compared to the diesel model.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: Besides acquisition cost, what are the main objections that North American contractors might have to electric equipment? Do you see this changing?

Arnold: For electric equipment to become the norm, machines need to be designed and proven to overcome the main concerns voiced by skeptical buyers around energy capacity, performance and price.

Charging requires a slight change in mindset, sometimes requiring a quick charge over lunch or remembering to plug it in at the end of the day. But people who have tried them say that adjustment happens quickly.

In these early stages, charging infrastructure, charging time and battery life have room for improvement. We can take advantage of the infrastructure changes happening in other sectors, like identical charging protocols as automotive for alternate current charging. Plus, through third-party suppliers, we see the emergence of stand-alone, sometimes portable charging systems suitable for electric vehicles that can also be used to charge these machines.

Rather than fear the change, the path forward is to embrace it and be part of the change to a more efficient, safer, greener and more profitable future. These first battery-electric models are already changing mindsets, and we’re bringing our customers along every step in this electromobility journey.

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