23 April 2014
When electric cars hit the news not many moons ago, some doubting Thomases expressed concerns about range and the practicalities of refuelling.
But their performance figures continue to improve, journey ranges are lengthening and electric vehicle makers have created much more than a niche market. The same is true of solar charged, battery-powered equipment.
As FM World readers will know, the grounds maintenance team at Liverpool ONE is already using this technology for a range of different power tools. It's important to emphasise that its successes with solar charged, battery-powered equipment centre on a change in mindset to service procurement and a willingness to adopt a more flexible approach to planning and service delivery.
Users are already providing positive feedback, not only on performance but also on other benefits such as reduced noise. Liverpool ONE operations director Chris Grundy said: "Liverpool ONE is a 42-acre estate mixed development scheme with hotels, leisure and retail. The investment in solar charged battery-powered equipment means fewer restrictions on working hours because of noise reduction with the added benefit of zero carbon emissions."
We at Botanical Group Services take a vested interest in green technology and believe the opportunity is here and now. While there may be a handful of industry areas where the technology requires further development, for the most part it is readily available, especially where there is an appetite and willingness for change. Much like the case of the electric car, this is as much about positively influencing the thinking of contractors and FMs as it is about the equipment itself.
There are some perceptions that it is difficult to measure the long-term value of adopting this type of technology, but the advantages are, in reality, clear and manifold.
On the health and safety side, no fuel preparation is required and there are no direct carbon dioxide emissions or exhaust fumes. The machinery also reduces operator fatigue, vibration and noise.
As for performance and costs, there are some great statistics to share. Throughout its life the battery is equivalent to using 3,000 litres of petrol and 60 litres of oil mix. A battery can pay for itself within the first year and is 80 per cent recyclable. The projected cost of running for the life of the battery is about £101, or nil if charged by solar panel. The equivalent cost of fuel is about £4,050. To many advocates like us, this is a no-brainer.
There are two major sectors - health and education - that are giving the benefits of battery-powered grounds equipment more than a casual glance.
The last thing schools, care homes or hospitals need is a two-stroke petrol engine going full bore right outside their windows when there is another way. The same goes for any place where people are in residence 24 hours a day and appreciate the peace and quiet that they deserve - hotels, private estates and leisure facilities to name just a few.
Many FMs are also increasingly keen for their organisations to reduce their carbon footprint and adopt smarter, greener technologies that will bring long-term benefits. They know they are saving on emissions and improving the wellbeing of grounds staff and others working or living in the area. There is a growing passion for corporate social responsibility that puts the benefits of solar charged battery-power much higher up the agenda.
The drive for smarter business practice is changing the way we think about our resources and how we go about planning. The technology is rapidly evolving to become ever more efficient. As with every innovation, once there is a critical mass of changing attitudes and new approaches, the market will flourish.
Organisations such as Liverpool ONE and Botanical Group Services are already working in collaboration to push the boundaries further. As we create an extended market, so the manufacturers will develop the next generation of solar-powered horticultural equipment. Long-term partnerships such as these will reap the benefits. If a client of ours wants to go greener we can give them a variety of options.
The solar charged battery powered revolution is here and it's already in commercial operation. As the shift in mindset of contractors and FMs continues, more will embrace it and allow it to prosper.
Gary Collinson, managing director of Botanical Group Services