Electric excavation: Piloting the Volvo EC230 in Los Angeles

Could an electric excavator perform just as well as a diesel-powered one on a construction mega project? Is there a future for widespread electrification of construction equipment? These are the questions our Civil team began to answer with a 90-day pilot of the Volvo EC230, the largest electric excavator of its kind.

This trial—one of four pilot programs in North America—took place on our Los Angeles Metro Purple (D Line) Extension Transit project in Los Angeles. Over the course of 90 days, our team replaced a diesel-powered excavator with the Volvo EC230 to load trucks of export material from a stockpile at the South Yard of the La Brea Station.  

Now that the pilot is complete, here is how the battery-powered excavator stacked up to the diesel-powered one.  

 Reduced emissions and noise reduction 

At the start of the pilot, the goal was to simply see if the electric piece of machinery could do the work. The reduction in emissions and noise reduction were added benefits. Our operators were key in testing the performance, functionality and operation of the electric excavator. It performed just as well as a diesel-powered excavator and operators felt that it was reliable to do the job. 

“One of my favorite observations of the whole trial was the feedback from our operators. Our operators were very skeptical when we were first introducing the pilot. Skanska’s support reassured them that they were still getting paid to do their job and that they were participating in something new that could or could not work. After each of them had run the machine for a few days, they all were pleasantly surprised with the performance of the machine and said the functionality and operation of the machine were all great,” said Westley Faure, mechanic foreman. 

An important unintended benefit was the noise reduction when using the electric machine. It makes less noise during operation, and in a loud city like Los Angeles, any reduction in noise for the surrounding community is an added benefit. 

When Skanska started the pilot program, they knew that it wouldn’t solve the climate crisis overnight. The goal was to test a new innovation with the hopes that it would anchor the conversation around electrification and be a steppingstone for future sustainable practices.  

With that being said, the pilot produced some interesting data. According to Skanska’s pilot, the Volvo electric excavator resulted in a carbon reduction of 34 kg/hour and has the potential to reduce the operating cost by $15.55 an hour. 


Charging time and a charger cable issue 

A widespread challenge with electrification is the charging capabilities and ease. This was no different with the Volvo EC230. Since it’s all-electric, it requires plugging in to charge the battery. When the excavator was at 10 – 20 percent battery, it took about three hours to charge to 80 percent and 4.5 hours to charge to 100 percent. Just like an electric vehicle, the last 20 percent is much slower to charge. 

The machine ran for about six to seven hours on a fully charged battery. If our team plugged it in during lunch, the machine would easily make a full eight-hour shift.  

Our team ran into some issues around the charging cable, but as part of the pilot, Skanska’s team quickly fixed the issue.  

“Like any pilot program, there are trial and error periods and there is no guarantee of results. Our team knew that going into the pilot and were able to address any challenges quickly and effectively. An initial challenge was the charging mechanism which, as you can imagine, is extremely important when using an electric excavator. We quickly figured out that there needed to be both an adjustment to the charging cable and additional training for the operators. We got to see improvements in real-time,” said Geoffrey Bender, senior project manager.  

Moving the sustainable construction industry forward 

The Volvo EC230 excavator has been launched in Europe, where Skanska has utilized the EC230 on our Slakthusområdet project in Stockholm, Sweden, and separately in China. This electric excavator is expected to be available in North America this year. 

While piloting the Volvo EC230 is just a small step towards reducing carbon emissions on jobsites, our team is hopeful that this pilot program furthers the conversation around sustainable practices and electrification in the construction industry. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but when we can physically see the work being done, it allows us to get closer to expanding progress.  

“Skanska is a company that is committed to sustainable innovation as part of our broader mission,” said Mason Ford, director of sustainability and equipment services for Skanska USA Civil. “We look at the participation in the Volvo EC230 and John Deere HD 12e VT pilot programs as positive steps we have taken to be at the forefront of innovative technology to address climate needs. But we would be remiss to say that these pilot programs alone have made a direct impact on solving the climate crisis. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But our goal is that the work Skanska is doing in Los Angeles and across the United States will create an anchor to further the conversation around electrification and sustainable innovation within the construction industry.” 

Learn more about Skanska’s sustainability journey here.