Electric Motor Efficiency Means Big Energy Savingsby William McCall, Associated Press
Environmental News Network, September 12, 2002
PORTLAND, Ore. — Almost one-fourth of the electricity in the United States is consumed by electric motor systems that hum along in buildings and factories with little notice by the top executives who sign off on their purchase or repair.
Energy experts say that if those executives did the math, they'd be shocked to find out that even a 1 percent improvement in efficiency could translate into millions of dollars in savings.
"Manufacturers tend not to care what it costs to operate a motor so long as it's productive," said Ted Jones of the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, a nonprofit national organization based in Boston. When an industrial motor fails, the chief concern of plant managers is to get it back into service as fast as possible without considering whether it can be made more efficient or replaced to save money in the long run, Jones said.
Purchases of new motors tend to be driven by the price of the equipment, not the electricity it will consume, he said.
But the actual cost of a big industrial motor typically amounts to just 3 percent of the total cost to operate it over its lifetime, which can extend up to 20 years. "So what you're paying for energy over that time is 97 percent of your total cost," Jones said.
When he shows executives the breakdown of original equipment cost plus energy consumption over the life of the motor, Jones says their response "is often something like, 'I didn't know I signed up to spend $80,000 for a $2,000 motor.'"
The consortium is trying to raise the level of awareness among top managers and corporate executives with a national campaign called "Motor Decisions Matter." The groups hopes to show them that investing a little more money for a motor certified as more efficient by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association will be paid back within a year or two in energy savings.
The campaign is getting plenty of support from the U.S. Department of Energy and various government agencies and universities, including the Bonneville Power Administration, Washington State University, and Oregon State University.
Some major companies — including Weyerhaeuser, 3M, and Walt Disney World in Florida — have been quick to adopt the new standard and purchase so-called NEMA Premium motors rated for high efficiency.
"Electric motors are everywhere," said Rob Boteler of Emerson Motor Technologies in St. Louis, the largest electric motor manufacturer in the world and a supporter of the efficiency campaign. "And just look around your office," he added. "You won't find something that hasn't been touched in some way by an electric motor during manufacturing."
Overall, efficiency has been improving since 1992, when federal energy policy established efficiency standards for industrial electric motors.
Many newer electric motors actually may be running efficiently, but they are used to operate machinery or factory systems that are inefficient or they may be the wrong size for the job, Boteler said. An analysis and inventory usually is needed to find out where energy is being wasted and how to improve the system, but plant managers are pressured to keep things running and repair motors quickly, he said.
"We think American industry needs to look at electric motors as a cost of production, the same way you look at labor costs and material costs," Boteler said. "If you look at motors as a cost of doing business, you change the entire approach and improve efficiency."
Persuading smaller companies to cover the initial expense can be a tough sell, said Mike Weedall, vice president of energy efficiency for the Bonneville Power Administration. The Portland-based federal agency officially began developing its own conservation programs with the 1980 Northwest Power Act, but it has supported many others, including electric motor efficiency programs.
No motor is too small for its attention. For motors in soft-drink vending machines, the BPA is supplying a sensor that can be plugged into a wall socket to turn off the refrigerator compressor after the soda pop is cooled. "We're trying to get pop machines on the factory floor more efficient, and it's working well," Weedall said. "When you think of all the machines that are sitting out there running way over cooling capacity, it's significant," he said. "You don't need that extra energy to keep it cool."
The efficiency message also is being spread nationally by Washington State University, which operates an energy efficiency lab and clearinghouse for the U.S. Energy Department, and Oregon State University, which operates a testing lab founded in 1993.
Johnny Douglass, senior industrial engineer at the Washington state energy center in Olympia, said the efficiency campaign is expanding to small motors rated at less than 1 horsepower because there is no federal standard for them and they tend to be the most inefficient. "Some of the most important areas where dollars can be saved in the residential sector are motors that are used on furnace fans and air conditioner fans because they're running continuously," Douglass said.
The Washington state center is joining forces with Advanced Energy in Raleigh, N.C., a nonprofit lab that will act as a national center for electric motor efficiency standards and testing. The two labs are working on software to analyze motors and the systems they operate.
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