Unveiling the Revolution: Equipment Rental Embraces an Electrified Future
In a world where the push for sustainability has evolved from a mere trend to a crucial necessity, the equipment rental industry is actively driving towards a low- and zero-emission future. While some may resist this transition towards battery-powered solutions, many industry players are eagerly embracing the opportunities and innovations that come with it.
Eddie Wilson, the General Manager of City Rentals in Ontario, California, understands the inevitability of this industry shift. As he explains, “We’re well aware that the future of equipment rental lies in battery-powered solutions. While we have already implemented smaller electric equipment like hedge trimmers, leaf blowers, and chainsaws, we are preparing to integrate larger equipment into our fleet. We are striving to stay ahead of the curve and strategically plan our next steps amidst this transition.”
The motivations driving rental companies towards electrification can vary. For City Rentals, it is primarily California’s ever-increasing environmental regulations that have accelerated their shift towards battery-powered equipment. Wilson comments, “We are well aware of the finish line. While we will do our part to influence regulations, we don’t aim to be rebellious once the rules are set.”
Tates Rents, a regional rental operator based in Boise, Idaho, has also embraced battery-powered solutions. While emission mandates have not been a driving factor for their electrified equipment adoption, they have observed a growing demand from contractors and homeowners. Sam Castillo, Senior Account Manager at Tates Rents, notes, “Electric equipment offers easier functionality and is friendlier for newer end-users. It’s a response to the demands of our customers.”
Sunbelt Rentals, an early adopter of battery-powered equipment, entered the realm of electrification to meet their customers’ requests for lower greenhouse gas emissions. Today, they continue to actively pursue new innovations in this field. Karen Beadle, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Sunbelt Rentals, emphasizes their commitment to partnering with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to develop advanced technology in line with customers’ sustainability objectives.
United Rentals, another major player in the industry, has also incorporated electric equipment into their fleet to meet various demands. Grant Zoldowski, Director of Environmental Management at United Rentals, explains, “Several of our larger customers are keen on reducing greenhouse gas emissions on job sites. This has fueled their interest in electrified equipment. Additionally, state and local requirements to reduce emissions have influenced our decisions, particularly in California.”
Before rental companies embark on fleet electrification, various factors must be considered, determining whether it will be a small step or a giant leap. Josh Nickell, Vice President of the Equipment Segment at the American Rental Association (ARA), emphasizes the role of location, customer base, and job site conditions. He remarks, “Different regions have diverse needs. A plumber in a rural town may only require an electrified excavator if they are working in a food manufacturing plant. In downtown urban areas for movie or television productions, electrification is crucial due to lower emissions and noise. Mega projects by companies like Meta and Google also have specific environmental and sustainability standards, demanding battery-powered fleets.”
While battery-powered equipment has proven itself against traditional gas-powered equivalents, there are both pros and cons to consider. Wilson highlights the benefits: “When it comes to battery-powered equipment, you add two batteries and you’re good to go. No more fuel-related issues or flooding the motor.” Castillo echoes this sentiment, emphasizing ease of use, reduced repair time, workplace accessibility, cleanliness, and higher return on investment.
Beadle points out that electric equipment offers overall emission reduction, lower operating costs, reduced noise levels, and the ability to operate indoors, all while maintaining safety and performance levels similar to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
However, there are also potential drawbacks. Wilson raises concerns about battery longevity and the inconvenience of dead batteries, as well as the need to rotate and charge batteries. Castillo acknowledges that being dependent on battery power is a common concern among customers. Unlike fuel, it is more challenging to simply replenish battery charge on the spot.
United Rentals recognizes the logistics involved in using electrified equipment. While performance matches that of traditional rentals, careful consideration must be given to the charging infrastructure at job sites. Grant Zoldowski affirms that their locations have charging solutions in place, and they collaborate with customers to provide appropriate charging options.
Al Halvorsen, Vice President of Environmental Sustainability at Sunbelt Rentals, believes that battery life and operating hours will improve as electric and battery technologies advance. Charging infrastructure will also be enhanced, further strengthening the capabilities of electric-powered equipment.
Nickell points out that the power generation and auto industries are primarily responsible for tackling battery performance challenges, and rental companies can reap the benefit of their advancements. He explains, “Charging infrastructure will need to be adapted by power grids and power companies before it impacts equipment fleets. We can look to the car industry as they solve multiple problems that will eventually benefit us. The same technology used in cars and trucks will be applied to skid steers and mini excavators. The difference lies in economy of scale and the vehicle industry’s contribution to cost reduction as we adopt these technologies.”
Beyond the technical aspects, the transition to battery-powered equipment offers training and operational benefits. Wilson compares training customers on smaller battery-powered equipment to gas-powered alternatives, stating, “The difference is in the conversation. Instead of discussing fuel, we now address batteries.” Castillo adds that electric-powered equipment is typically lighter and easier to train customers on.
Maintenance is also simplified with battery-powered equipment. Castillo mentions that electric units are easier to service, troubleshoot, and maintain. Mechanic time is reduced due to fewer maintenance requirements, saving valuable resources for rental companies. Nickell emphasizes this advantage, noting that the industry struggles to fill mechanic positions, and electrified equipment reduces the burden on maintenance staff.
Besides the tangible benefits of compliance and improved efficiency, battery-powered equipment aligns with companies’ broader sustainability goals. Beadle explains, “Diesel and gasoline engines contribute significantly to our fleet’s greenhouse gas emissions. Electrifying our on-road delivery vehicles and off-road rental fleet will substantially reduce these emissions for both Sunbelt Rentals and our customers.”
Whether motivated by regulatory mandates, cost-effectiveness, or environmental responsibility, battery-powered equipment is set to play a more prominent role in the rental industry. For Wilson, being at the forefront of this transition is essential. As emission limitations draw closer in California, he remarks, “We want to update our fleet ahead of the state’s requirements. We want to be leaders, actively participating in this shift and setting an example for the industry.”
Castillo envisions substantial growth in electrified equipment at Tates Rents. He believes that while the future may not be entirely electric, the market for battery-powered solutions will expand significantly. The increasing efficiency and value of battery-powered equipment outweigh the higher upfront costs.
Al Halvorsen echoes this sentiment, emphasizing Sunbelt Rentals’ commitment to a diversified fleet comprising battery electric, solar, and renewable fuel-powered equipment. Their goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and continually improve their environmental impact.
Nickell highlights the symbiotic nature of battery-powered equipment and the rental industry’s inherent sustainability. Rental, as a concept, already reduces carbon emissions by 30 to 60 percent compared to ownership. Embracing electrification is a natural extension of the rental industry’s sustainable spirit, aligning with the values of environmentally conscious consumers and younger generations.
As rental companies navigate towards an electrified future, they understand that they have the ability to shape their industry’s narrative. Wilson concludes, “The Tesla semi-trucks, for example, offer rapid charging in just 30 or 45 minutes. Innovations like these minimize downtime. We must also remember that rental isn’t just about equipment; it’s about providing solutions. Battery-powered equipment offers convenience, reliability, and a cleaner future for all.”
With companies like City Rentals, Tates Rents, Sunbelt Rentals, and United Rentals leading the way, the rental industry continues to evolve, embracing the potential of battery-powered equipment while ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future.