The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy
In May 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published a landmark report setting out its roadmap for the global energy sector to achieve its net zero ambitions by 2050. The IEA describes the roadmap as one of the most important and challenging undertakings in its history. The message is clear: we are in a crisis. The time to act is now.
However, the roadmap offers some encouraging news. It points out that increased energy efficiency can play a vital role as the first fuel in tackling the scale of this unprecedented challenge. The IEA’s view is that adopting energy efficiency measures will allow the world economy to grow 40% by 2030 while using 7% less energy than today.
There is still one often overlooked energy efficiency technology that is vital on this road to net-zero: high-efficiency electric motors controlled by variable speed drives (VSDs).
Electric motors are an integral part of modern life. They drive the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that maintain buildings at a comfortable temperature. Motors power the myriad of pumps essential for the supply of freshwater and are found in a broad range of industries from steel to food and drink. In the EU alone, there are estimated to be around eight billion electric motors in all applications, which account for almost half of the EU’s energy consumption.
The challenge is that too many of the world’s motor-driven systems are based on outdated and inefficient technology that wastes energy unnecessarily. However, legislation is in hand to address this. The EU’s new Ecodesign Regulation (EU) 2019/1781, came into full effect in July 2021 for low-voltage induction motors and VSDs. This requires a wide range of industrial electric motors to meet the IE3 premium efficiency standard.
The implications for energy savings are huge. Mandating the use of higher-efficiency motors, together with VSDs that regulate their speed to meet demand and save even more energy, will enable the EU to save 110 terawatt-hours by 2030. That is the same as the annual electricity consumption of the Netherlands.
These changes are just the first step in a two-year process. In July 2023, the Ecodesign regulation will expand to raise the base level for certain motors to IE4 ultra-premium efficiency.
However, to achieve the maximum impact on energy efficiency, industry should look beyond what the legislation calls for now. Instead, it could adopt even more advanced technology that is already commercially available. IE5 ultra-premium efficiency motors and drive packages are already easily available on the market. Thinking ahead will surpass the regulatory demands of today and tomorrow, as well as delivering exceptional energy efficiency that feeds right into the bottom line.
Investing in the latest energy-efficient technology can have a major impact. A recent study highlights that if the world’s 300 million industrial motor-driven systems were replaced with optimised, high-efficiency equipment, global electricity consumption could be reduced by up to 10%. That’s roughly equal to more than 90% of the annual consumption of the entire EU.
Practical examples are useful to illustrate the difference that efficient technology can make. Campbells, the American food and beverage manufacturer, wanted to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions at a plant in Australia. It replaced all the old inefficient motors in compressors and cooling systems with modern IE5 motor and drive packages. By doing this, Campbells reduced the energy consumption of the plant by 14% and the carbon dioxide emissions by 131 tonnes per year. The success has prompted Campbells to start planning the optimisation of other plants worldwide.
At this crucial stage, energy-efficient motor and drive technology promises to be a vital factor to help put the world on the path to net-zero. It also comes with the important upside that saving energy means saving money. Industry can enjoy a fast return on investment that will deliver long-term benefits for the planet.
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