What’s Standing in the Way of Off-Highway Electric Construction Equipment?
There are a few obstacles left, but they’re starting to fall
The U.S. may be at the forefront for many things, but sustainable energy really isn’t one of them. According to the most recent Energy Trilemma Index, America isn’t even in the top 10 for most sustainable countries (Denmark is number one, by the way). Fortunately, however, this is beginning to change.
The 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook shows that 18 percent of all electricity produced in the country in 2017 came from renewable sources including wind, solar, and hydroelectric dams. Plus, in the last decade, coal’s share of energy consumption in the U.S. has dropped from 48 percent to 30 percent.
While very positive signs, some industries are still lagging behind when it comes to sustainability. Construction is one example. The next time you drive by a construction site, chances are very good that almost all of the equipment you’ll see is still powered by gas or diesel. Why is this and how much longer will the old ways stick around?
A few industry experts offered their insight into the use of battery-powered construction equipment and the challenges that remain.
Terry Hershberger, Sales Director of Product Management for Bosch Rexroth, thinks the biggest issues are related to energy storage.
“The challenges are in the energy-storage methods, limiting machine consumption of that stored energy, and the ability to quickly generate or replace that energy again,” he said.
Hershberger believes the function of equipment will have to be the central focus. Machines that do different types of work, like lifting, extending, and retracting, will need to have special considerations. Actuators are another area that has to be considered, he said.
“One must also ask whether there will be electric actuators that can replace the power density of the hydraulics. For moving the vehicle, there seem to be trending toward electrics based on success in automotive and on-highway applications. But the use and power consumption rate for off-highway/construction equipment has to be evaluated.”
Jenny Elfsberg, Director of Emerging Technologies for Volvo, believes there are many challenges in regard to making all construction equipment electric, but the technical ones are the easiest to deal with. She’s most concerned about things like sales and marketing and customer acceptance.
“Of course there is fear and anxiousness when new technologies require new competencies when the cost of the machine is high, but the total cost of ownership is low, minds change and a willingness to embrace the future and contribute to making this world a better place is needed,” she said.
Elfsberg said that while she has heard from many customers who want cleaner machines that are less dependent on oil, Volvo has hesitated to bring hybrid or completely electric construction equipment to the market. She cites “business viability” as one of the biggest reasons, but added that, “I think we [Volvo], together with our competitors, have been hesitating longer than necessary.”
Eric Hendrickson, Business Development Manager of Vehicle Electrification for Parker Hannifin, thinks that engineering challenges will be overcome by continuing advancements in battery technology and charging infrastructure. But he thinks, for the time being, the biggest issue is the initial high costs of upgrading to electric equipment. However, he doesn’t believe that this will be an issue for much longer.
“As electrification takes hold across many markets, the component costs will decrease,” he said. “Higher levels of component integration into sub-systems will further drive down costs and further reduce vehicle weight and size.
Read the full comments from these experts at MachineDesign.
While we may still years away from construction equipment becoming totally electric, most experts believe that it will happen eventually. Smart companies are getting on board now, and they are immediately seeing the benefits – including zero fuel costs and less manpower expense – of battery-powered equipment.
If you are interested in upgrading to battery-powered machinery, get in touch with Triple E Equipment.