13 July 2010

Are electric mowers more friendly for the environment?

I keep hearing on the radio that electric mowers are so much better than gas-powered mowers. And I'm not talking about performance--these commercials are speaking directly to environmental impact.

While agreeing that it is entirely plausible that electric mowers are more environmentally friendly than gas-powered mowers, I wanted to look a bit deeper to see some of the data behind these claims.

Unfortunately, the data doesn't appear to readily exist on both sides. While there are a number of studies that attempt to show the emissions from using a gas-powered mower, nothing of the like appears to exist for their electric counterparts. Now, I know what you're saying--electric mowers don't have emissions. Directly, of course, they don't. But where does that electricity come from? Whether you're using a corded or cordless electric mower, the power is coming from somewhere.

Incredibly, some of the content I found didn't even acknowledge this:
Out of sight, out of mind?! I guess these electric and battery-powered movers work on ambient static electricity; but if they require being plugged in to be used and/or charged, they're creating some pollution. So the next question is: how much?

This isn't easily answered, since power sources are different depending upon where you live. So the better question is--where does your power come from? According to Consumer Reports, “[a]chieving a net environmental savings from switching to electric mowers depends on the efficiency of the power plant”. Precisely. Nearly 70% of electric power in the United States is generated by fossil fuels, so chances are your electric mower is helping to pump out some pollution. Your backyard might be emissionless, but your power plant certainly isn't, and you're probably contributing to it. More Nimbyism, eh?

So what is the comparison? Honestly, I don't know. You'd have to figure out the power required to operate your electric mower and then figure out what the associated emissions at your power plant are to generate that power. Again, it is entirely plausible that electric mowers are more environmentally friendly than gas-powered mowers, but without that specific data, you're just guessing.

Of course, the same argument could be made for electric cars. And that doesn't even include the dirty mining of nickel for electric car batteries, but that's for another day...
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