Trialling an Electric 1.7t Excavator
In line with Willerby Landscapes drive to use cleaner energy, Willerby took part in a one-week trial of a 1.7t electric excavator which was arranged with Wacker-Neuson, who attended the site to train our operatives on the use and charging set-up for the machine. The machine was used on a site to spread and grade topsoil in various planting areas and the size of the machine was ideal for this task as it could manoeuvre between kerbs and obstructions.
The operator had no issue with carrying out the soiling, which is a very common task for a landscaping contractor, and in general the machine’s performance was consistent with a conventional diesel excavator. The driver said it felt like it did not have the power of a diesel engine when working at the limits of the capacity, but adapting the style of driving was all that was required and there was no loss of productivity.
Interestingly adapting to the lack of noise was the issue most talked about within the team. Operatives on construction sites are used to noise as an indicator of proximity to risk, so the lack of noise made them feel a little uneasy when working nearby. However as with most sites, a vehicle banksman is required at all times when an excavator or other site machinery is in use to ensure operatives are not at risk, so the risk of operatives being hit by a machine they can’t hear is minimised. The lack of noise also means directions from the banksman can be easily heard without shouting. Even so, lack of noise will need to be carefully considered when writing Risk Assessment Method Statements for the use of electric plant. Proximity sensors built into the machines, or adding some noise to the machines when in use could be useful as mitigation.
The operatives liked the fact there was no exhaust pollution, which is clearly a major advantage for electric plant. The health benefits of a single electric excavator are hard to quantify, but multiplied across hundreds of sites for a longer period of time and impact on occupational health for operatives in the construction industry is clear to see. Hot exhaust fumes can also be damaging to plants. Equally, the environmental benefit of using cleaner energy is extremely important; so reducing use of fossil fuels in construction should be welcomed.
Overall, we found the 1.7t electric excavator was effective for the task of spreading soil. Willerby Landscapes generally use larger machines, especially for high volume work and excavation of compacted ground, so the use of electric plant is likely to be occasional and task specific at this time. However, when larger models become available, and at competitive prices, we would definitely consider transitioning to more widespread use.
On sites where noise restrictions are in place due to proximity with residential and office buildings and where air pollution levels are important, such as sites adjacent to schools or public thoroughfares, the advantages of electric plant are clear and obvious. Willerby Landscapes will certainly look to use electric plant in these situations and have suitable projects coming up in the near future. Main contractors specifying electric plant on sites, allowing contractors to price for their use at tender, will have a significant impact of the proliferation of their use.