Canadian Rental Service

Editorial: Splitting the difference

Patrick Flannery   

Features Business Intelligence opinion

Hybrid power might solve the performance v.s emissions dillema.


Last month I wrote in this space about the cautious approach we as an industry have to take to new technology. The shiny new thing may promise benefits beyond our wildest dreams, but reality has a way of introducing details to the equation that weren’t factored into the advance calculation. As an all-thumbs anti-handyman who is nevertheless charged with doing a lot of the fix and repair around the house, I can attest that on some point in any job I’ll be saying, “There’s always something.” No project ever goes completely according to plan without some complicating obstacle. The screw strips. You can’t reach the valve. The fitting is the wrong size. The driver’s battery is dead. Etc. On a household DIY project the greatest risk is a dangerous elevation in blood pressure and that face your wife makes. When it’s equipment you’ve put on rent, the risk is to your reputation and your business’ bottom line.

Right now, construction equipment manufacturers are heroically trying to swim upstream against that reality. They’ve heard from governments that soon construction sites will have to be emissions-free or close to it and they are anticipating a surge in demand for zero-emissions equipment. So every trade show floor is full to bursting with new electrified equipment designs, especially lithium-ion battery designs.

Yet when I talk to rental store owners about the technology, their skepticism is palpable. They know their customer is going to run that thing out of power no matter how many alerts go off. Then they’ll be faced with an hour-long recharge instead of a quick fill-up…and that’s if there’s power at the site. Are they really going to get the power and performance out of the machine that they would out of a diesel equivalent? Certainly we’re told so but then again we’re told a lot of things. And what about the cold? There’s just no getting around the fact that lithium batteries drain far faster when they are cold and here in Canada our equipment has to operate in some of the coldest weather on the planet.

That’s why I wanted to take a look at hybrid technology in this issue. It solves the refueling problem because the gas or diesel engine charges the battery if it gets low. You’ll need to use more gas in the cold, but at least the machine will start and keep running. And the emissions and fuel use are certainly much less, though possibly not the zero some jurisdictions say they will want. I think I heard somewhere that you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need.

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Maybe hybrid engines are what we need as an industry to split the difference between lower emissions and acceptable performance in the field. Several of the OEM’s in Hein’s page 22 article on hybrid power suggest there might be no performance tradeoff at all…in fact, just the opposite. When a hybrid machine is working off the battery, it gets the instant torque benefits of pure electric power in a smaller overall power plant. Best of both worlds?

If so, it might be something we want to talk to our manufacturers about, since many of them seemed to have skipped the intermediate step and gone right to lithium. In finding products for this issue’s showcase, I encountered a lot of hybrid designs that appear to be concepts only, or offered for a brief time a few years ago then discontinued. I’m not surprised. Absent the regulations demanding zero emissions, there’s little reason why a rental store would take a flyer on hybrid technology when tried-and-true diesel is still there. Well, those regulations are coming now and maybe hybrid is an answer. 


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