By now, anyone who uses compact equipment has probably caught wind of the push toward electric machines. If you’re unsure whether it’s right for your operation, you may be looking for some advice.
When it comes to compact wheel loaders (CWLs), there are three main reasons to consider going electric: operational benefits, environmental benefits and financial benefits. Let’s take a look at each.
Some people think an electric machine won’t have as much power as a diesel machine, but that’s just not true. There are brands whose electric model specifications match up with their diesel equivalents. More importantly, early users of electric compact wheel loaders have reported that they’ve experienced no drop in performance compared with a diesel machine.
There are even some ways electric machines outperform diesel models. One of those is the instant torque of electric. When the operator moves the joystick, the response is instantaneous rather than the slight delay that’s common with a diesel machine.
One of the best things about a CWL is its versatility due to its compatibility with multiple attachments, and electric versions are no different. We’ve also heard from operators that the reduced noise and vibration of electric machines makes jobsite communication easier and lessens fatigue.
Runtime is a common question about electric machines, but charging is not as complicated as you might think. Basically, the more power you can put into the machine, the faster it will charge — like filling your vehicle with a fuel pump versus a gas can.
For optimal charging time, it’s best to have a 240-volt, 32-amp Level 2 AC-charging setup that utilizes an SAE J1772 charging adapter or J plug. Before you get worried about the jargon, this is the same setup recommended for electric cars, and 240 volts is what many household appliances run on.
A regular 120-volt outlet should also work depending on the brand of the machine you have, but it will take longer. There are also options like off-board fast chargers and solar-powered chargers. And of course, research and development will provide a wider range of charging options in the coming months and years.
Runtime will vary based on the manufacturer, but the electric compact wheel loaders I’m most familiar with get several hours from a full battery in their most common applications. Another thing to consider is that an electric machine turns off when it’s not in use. So think about how much your diesel compact wheel loaders idle in an average shift versus doing actual work. That electric machine may have more than enough battery to get the job done in a single charge.
Another tip is to not run at full throttle all the time because you usually don’t need excessive power. Run in an appropriate rpm range and you’ll be just fine.
Even if sustainability is not a top priority for you, it is to many others. Governments are increasingly enacting clean air regulations, and more project owners are putting sustainability targets into their RFPs. A machine with zero emissions could help you win more bids.
An electric machine could also open up new types of work for you. Just think about all the new and different ways electric CWLs can be used thanks to their zero emissions and significantly lower noise. They can work indoors, in congested areas, near animals and potentially at hours when noise restrictions are in place.
The ability to bid on emission- and noise-restricted jobs is part of a solid long-term business strategy and will help you qualify for applications where conventional machines aren’t welcome. Plus, it’s simply the right thing to do for our environment.
If you’re concerned about the cost of switching to electric, don’t forget to calculate the total cost of ownership (TCO) and not just the purchase price. Electric machines offer fuel savings, less maintenance and extended component life — and that’s on top of the additional work you may be able to win.
Maintenance is much simpler on an electric machine because there’s no engine to maintain. DEF and other filters also are not needed. Essentially, the only supplies required are grease and hydraulic oil. This is much different than a conventional machine that requires fluid, filter and component checks as often as every day.
Overall, the lifetime of battery-electric components should be equal to or better than that of the diesel engine on a conventional machine. My team conservatively estimates that users will see 35% savings in maintenance cost and time over the life of the electric machines we offer.
I mentioned earlier that many electric machines shut off when not in use. This means they can significantly reduce the accumulation of machine hours compared with diesel machines, which rack up hours while idling. This reduces operating costs — and it can also improve the resale value of the machine.
Summing It Up
Improvements on electric CWLs and charging infrastructure will continue, of course. But they are viable right now, too. Why wait to take advantage of their operational, environmental and financial benefits when you could get started today?
Talk to your dealer or OEM and determine whether an electric compact wheel loader might be a good addition to your lineup.
Lars Arnold is an electromobility product manager for Volvo Construction Equipment. Learn more here!