Urbanisation, rising global living standards and geopolitical tensions are placing enormous pressure on the global energy supply. Energy security and sustainability are critical—but scaling up today’s approach will not be enough. We must invest in industrial energy efficiency on a global scale, says Tarak Mehta from ABB Motion
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy
Industrial energy efficiency measures are growing in popularity
Today, energy efficiency is at the forefront of the global discussion. The ongoing war in Ukraine, the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the global climate crisis have all compelled us to reconsider our relationship with energy. In short, the way we consume energy today is simply not sustainable if the global energy sector is to achieve the ambition of net-zero emissions by 2050.
However, it is not all gloom and doom. At least one multinational investment management company regards the current crisis as an opportunity to accelerate progressive change. While conceding that capital may initially flow to the oil and gas sectors, soaring energy costs could hasten the transition to a low-carbon economy.
In addition to using clean energy, our entire society, from homes and businesses to industry, must commit to using power more efficiently if we are to reach net-zero emissions.
I am not alone in this belief. At a recent global conference on energy efficiency, ministers and other senior representatives from 24 countries—including France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Senegal and the United States and the African and European Unions—issued a joint statement stressing the importance of energy efficiency for addressing many of today’s critical challenges, including the energy crisis, inflationary pressures and rising greenhouse gas emissions.
The International Energy Agency estimates that embracing energy-efficient technology will support global economic growth of 40% by 2030 while cutting energy use by 7% compared to today’s numbers.
A critical step to achieving this and making better use of energy resources is to improve the efficiency of electric motors. The reason is that today, industrial electric motors consume more than 45% of the world’s total electricity, and by 2040, their number is expected to double.
Even marginal improvements in efficiency can reduce energy use by a significant amount in absolute terms, with an additional benefit of saving cost and CO2 emissions. Independent research reveals that replacing the world’s 300 million-plus industrial electric motor-drive systems with optimised, high-efficiency equipment could reduce global electricity consumption by 10%—roughly 90% of the entire EU’s annual consumption.
High-efficiency electric motors controlled by variable speed drives can significantly contribute to the success of modern industry’s net-zero journey. Experts estimate that around half of all industrial motors could be paired with a drive for greater efficiency, but the current rate of adoption is just 23%. Too many of the world’s electric motor-driven systems still use outdated and inefficient technology and waste energy.
In a recent survey we conducted with industrial companies on energy efficiency, nearly 90% of the respondents indicate that they will increase energy efficiency spending over the next five years. Reassuringly, more than half (52%) intend to achieve net-zero emissions over the same period. Meanwhile, the vast majority (97%) are already investing or planning to invest in energy efficiency technologies.
We also found that 40% of the companies surveyed plan to make energy improvements already in 2022. Almost two-thirds of the survey respondents are upgrading their equipment to best-in-class efficiency ratings, such as high-efficiency electric motors controlled by variable speed drives (VSDs).
While the survey findings were largely positive, there were also areas of concern. Half of the respondents listed cost as the most significant barrier to improving energy efficiency, especially those who are not planning to do so in future. Still, despite cost being a barrier to energy efficiency investment, 59% of the respondents listed cost savings as the most important reason for investing.
For the global industry to make significant gains, it is vital to help stakeholders understand that transitioning to net-zero emissions need not mean a net cost. Both suppliers and governments need to advocate the message that the adoption of energy efficiency technology offers a fast return on investment while cutting CO2 emissions.
While our survey was conducted shortly before the war in Ukraine, with its consequent impact on energy supplies, the message has not changed. Indeed, it has become even stronger. In recent months, Microsoft, DHL and Alfa Laval are among the industry-leading companies that have joined forces under our Energy Efficiency Movement.
We formed this initiative to highlight that saving energy has long-term benefits for the planet. And the time to act is now. •
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