More efficient electric motors could mean plans for 200 coal-fired power plants around the world can be scrapped

Tuesday November 1, 2016 11:14

AMSTERDAM – Forty-five percent of all the electricity in the world is used for electric motors and pumps, ventilation and compressor systems. These motors and systems are often outdated and energy-inefficient. By optimising them and making them more efficient, the world could save more than 1350 TWh of electricity, which is around seven percent of the world electricity consumption.

This would make the construction of 200 new coal-fired power plants unnecessary, the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) has calculated. ECN provides countries and governments with energy-saving recommendations. It has just completed a two-year project together with Indonesia.

‘We were as surprised as everyone else to discover that such a large proportion of global electricity consumption can be attributed to electric motors. More than 2.5 times as much electricity is used for electric motors and electrically driven systems than for lighting,’ says researcher Jeffrey Sipma of ECN. ‘There is a huge potential here for cost-effective and technically relatively simple energy-saving measures.’

In light of the Paris climate deal, ECN sees plenty of opportunities for countries to achieve a considerable proportion of their sustainability goals by making electric motors more energy efficient. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), developing countries are in the best position to profit from this. UNEP has set up a task force to explore this, of which ECN is a member.

ECN is helping governments worldwide to design and implement road maps to optimise electric motors and electrically powered systems and make them more efficient. Their focus is the industrial sector, but there is also a considerable potential for energy savings in the commercial sector. Because the systems used in these sectors are typically long-lived and the motors are often rewound, many of the electric motors used all around the world have become outdated. 

Enormous savings can be achieved with relatively simple measures. To start with, the older motors with an energy class of IE0 or IE1 need to be replaced with more modern and efficient versions with class IE3 or IE4. This would reduce power consumption by a huge percentage. More major savings can be achieved by installing variable speed drives in pumps, compressors and ventilation systems, which could reduce consumption by 15 to 40 percent. Depending on the process being powered, this could also increase production capacity at the same time. More savings can be made by repairing leaks, implementing a motor management system, replacing pumps or ventilators, or making various other technical and organisational improvements. ECN uses various checklists to assess which measures are suitable. The actual energy savings will always vary depending on the situation, but it can be predicted quite accurately with an Energy Audit. On average, reductions of 20 percent are expected for industrial systems and 15 percent for services (conservative estimates). 

‘We start with a road map. We identify the major industries that consume the most power and then make a list of priorities. We then get together with the national government to establish targets. We analyse the systems involved and at the same time try to raise awareness among the businesses themselves,’ explains Sipma briefly. ‘We also provide governments with advice on how to quantify, establish, manage, stimulate and finance the entire process.’

The potential savings in both electricity consumption and money and the payback time of the measures can be demonstrated with calculations. Sipma has calculated that if all applicable systems in the world were optimised tomorrow, this would save 1350 terawatt hours of power the next year. This would mean that 17 percent less coal-fired capacity would be required, so some 200 new plants would not have to be built. This would save around $375 billion in investments.

During the last two years in Indonesia, ECN has been helping the government to develop an action plan for a transition to more efficient motors and systems in industry. The country still uses many outdated motors with energy class IE0 and IE1, often imported cheaply from China. The barriers to change in Indonesia are the low, subsidised energy prices and a lack of relevant knowledge. The country could save 23 terawatt hours of energy per year on average by implementing more efficient energy consumption practices systematically in the major industrial and commercial users. This would save the industry $1.5 billion, and the government would be able to use $1 billion of energy subsidies elsewhere. Moreover, Indonesia could scrap half the new coal-fired power plants it has planned - an investment of $11 billion - and it would be able to meet a large part of its obligations in the climate deal. 'This is a win-win situation for everyone, and the cost savings are many times greater than the investment required to implement this energy programme,' affirms Sipma. 

Although this will be a lengthy transformation process, various successes can be mentioned. For example, one pharmaceutical company reduced the electricity consumption of its cooling water systems by 49 percent, amounting to annual cost savings of $80,000, so that the investment was recouped within two years. A petrochemicals company installed 34 variable speed drives and reduced its electricity consumption by 28 percent. This investment was recouped in just 5 months. A textiles factory reduced its electricity consumption by 59 percent by installing 15 variable speed drives for their ventilation systems and recouped this investment in just over a year.

More information and contact
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Category: Corporate, Policy Studies