From Noisy and Smelly to Quiet and Clean: The Case for Electric Lawn Mowers
Updated: May 8
On Block Island, the reassuring call of the spring peeper marks the arrival of spring. However, another, less pleasing sound is soon to follow: the inexorable drone of lawn mowers and other petroleum powered equipment. While we have been dulled to this veritable aural assault, it is, unfortunately, far from the worst of the emissions these machines produce.
While lawn and garden equipment accounts for a relatively small portion of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions, this sector accounts for a significant portion of harmful air pollutants. According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), running a typical four-stroke lawn mower for one hour produces as much smog-forming pollution as driving a modern automobile about 300 miles. Two stroke engines found in weed eaters, chainsaws, and leaf blowers fare even worse, especially in terms of particulate emissions, which are especially detrimental to human health. Operating a leaf blower for an hour emits an equivalent amount of smog-forming pollution as driving a modern car about 1100 miles.
Consider that modern road-going gasoline powered vehicles employ complex emissions control measures to meet ever stricter standards. Evaporative emissions control systems are used to lessen the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the evaporation of gasoline. Engine designs are finely tuned to reduce emissions and increase efficiency. Finally, exhaust systems contain catalysts that are designed to further mitigate air pollution.
Unfortunately, the emissions from off-highway small engines are not regulated nearly as tightly as those of cars. The gasoline engines used in lawn care implements do not contain any significant emissions control technology. Gasoline vapor is vented directly to the atmosphere, engine designs are generally primitive, and exhaust systems do not typically contain a catalytic converter. These design decisions add up to devices whose environmental footprint is disproportionate to their intended function and scope.
Happily, there is an alternative. Electric lawn equipment has existed for some time, but recent advances in battery and motor technology have made electric power tools of all sorts both affordable and effective. While directly helping to reduce air pollution, adopting electric power for use in our mowers and weed eaters also meshes well with the broader theme of electrifying as much of our energy consumption as possible. Moving ever increasing amounts of society’s energy demands to electricity will allow the reaping of further benefits from the adoption of renewables, as more clean generation capacity comes online in the future.
Electric lawn and garden equipment is safe, quiet, and environmentally friendly. The Solar Initiative is offering a limited number of subsidies toward the purchase of electric lawn care equipment for use on Block Island. For individuals, tSI is offering a one-time incentive, up to a total of $300 per household, toward 50% of the purchase price of any number of fully electric lawn care implements. For businesses, a similar program is available with a subsidy limit of $1500.