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Motors are everywhere and efficient – but they can be even better

Thursday, December 4, 2014

by Chad S. Gallinat, U.S. representative to the SEAD initiative; and Debbie Karpay Weyl, Senior Associate, Global Programs at CLASP (CLASP is the operating agent for the SEAD initiative)

Electric motor-driven systems account for nearly half of all global electricity consumption, creating roughly $565 billion USD per year in electricity costs and resulting in roughly 6,040 Mt of CO2 emissions. Motor-driven systems are used widely across all sectors of the global economy, from adjusting the positions of car seats to running major industrial processes. The industrial sector accounts for nearly two-thirds of motor electricity consumption.

Mid-sized motors (0.75 kW [1 hp]– 375 kW [500 hp]) used in applications for mechanical movement, compressors, pumps, and fans account for the largest percentage of motor electricity consumption. These motors were the focus of the first Super-efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) Global Efficiency Medal Competition highlighting the world’s most efficient electric induction motors.

The electric induction motor was patented by Nikola Tesla over 130 years ago, and first made practical by companies such as Westinghouse and General Electric soon thereafter. The induction motor’s ability to run directly from an electric grid without a controller, its simplicity, and its relatively long life have ensured its past and ongoing domination of the mid-sized motor markets.

However, this does not mean that the electric motor industry has not evolved. The global motor market has been transformed over the last twenty years through a confluence of stricter energy-efficiency regulations, technological breakthroughs, and manufacturer ingenuity. Today, super energy-efficient induction motors are available in many major regional markets (as highlighted in the SEAD competition). Beyond induction motors, material and technological breakthroughs are pushing the efficiencies of electric motors even further by changing how motors work and are controlled.

SEAD Award Winners at the 2014 Motor Summit

Last month, motor experts gathered in Zurich, Switzerland, to discuss many timely and relevant issues surrounding this proven yet rapidly changing technology. Motor Summit 2014—the premier global forum exploring energy-efficiency technology advances in electric motors—brought together thought leaders from around the world, including government regulators, standards bodies, trade associations, and motor manufacturers. SEAD was well represented at this year’s summit, holding several events to showcase and improve the SEAD Competition for electric motors.

An awards ceremony at the Motor Summit highlighted electric induction motors from two companies that received SEAD Global Efficiency Medals.

  • Four products from Nanyang Explosion Protection Group Company Limited from Henan Province, P.R. China, won two international awards and four regional awards in Australia and North America. These winning motors, in the IE4 efficiency class, are 1.5% to 3.4% more efficient than the average motors sold in those regions.

    Because average motors being sold in those markets are already about 91% to 94% efficient, an efficiency increase of just a couple of percent is, indeed, significant. If all new motors sold were as efficient as the SEAD Global Efficiency Medal-winning motors, it could result in annual electricity savings of about 16 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year in North America and around 1.7 TWh per year in Australia, together the equivalent of eliminating about 6 mid-sized (500 MW) coal-fired power plants.

  • Two products from Siemens Limited from Mumbai, India, won two India regional awards with efficient motors in the IE3 class. Currently, there are very few IE3 motors on the Indian market. These SEAD Award-winning motors are 4.4% to 6.4% more efficient than the average motors sold in the Indian market. If all the new motors sold in India were as efficient as the SEAD Global Efficiency Medal-winning models, it could result in electricity savings of around 6 TWh per year, the equivalent of eliminating another 2 mid-sized coal-fired power plants.

Where Will Motor Technologies Go Next?

In addition to recognizing the Global Efficiency Medal winners, SEAD hosted an industry roundtable to gather feedback from motor manufacturers about the competition. Representatives from 18 motor manufacturers attended the roundtable, providing input from every region of the globe to help guide potential future competitions for electric motors.

One common theme throughout the Motor Summit and side events was the improvement of variable frequency drive (VFD) technologies to further reduce the energy use of motor-driven systems. Manufacturers continue to create completely new motor technologies that work in conjunction with electronic controllers.

However, without an internationally accepted test standard and associated efficiency tiers—which have become the norm in induction motor markets—manufacturers face an uphill battle in educating purchasers about the benefits of these VFD-driven motors. Through events like the industry roundtable, SEAD is working with regulators, motor manufacturers, and standards bodies to make sure this message is heard. An internationally accepted test method for VFDs and VFD-driven motors could also enable SEAD to include these new technology motors in a future round of the competition.

It cannot be predicted what motor technologies will exist in another 130 years, or even another 20 years. However, continued international collaboration and open dialogue will help to further shrink motors’ share of energy consumption over the years to come.

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