What do we do until renewables are in place?

1st February 2013

In light of the increasing worries about power safety, more and more politicians lobby for the urgent embrace of renewable sources of energy to lower CO2 emission levels. But while talks are on-going, concrete commitments are outstanding.

Meanwhile regulations are waiting to be put in place that will enable investment into the building of the necessary infrastructures. The question then arises: how do we cope with the increasing need for energy in the meantime? One option is to use less energy, which for some is not an option at all. How about using energy more efficiently then? Not much can be said against that and a lot is in the pipeline and ready to use.

Let’s take for example industrial motors. Industry accounts for approximately 42 per cent of the world’s consumption of electric energy. Two thirds of this is used to power electric motors. Increasing the efficiency levels of those motors by a few percentage points can have a significant impact on energy use, which not only reduces manufacturing costs but also CO2 emission.

The good news is that leading manufacturers of industrial motors around the world have already adopted an energy efficiency classification that was put in place by the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and has been published as a globally relevant standard IEC 60034-30. This IEC International Standard classifies motors into three levels depending on how efficiently they convert electricity into mechanical energy: IE1 is the base standard for efficiency, IE2 stands for high efficiency and IE3 for premium efficiency. The standard also mentions a future level above IE3 to be called IE4 super premium efficiency. Products in this category are not yet commercially available.

The classification system has stimulated competition among motor manufacturers and generated massive technology improvements, and while IEC International Standards are voluntary, the EU (European Union) has adopted the IEC classification system and issued a Commission Regulation (EC) 640/2009, which came into effect on 16 June 2011. As of that date, only motors that meet or exceed IE2 energy efficiency levels are allowed to be sold and installed in the EU. In a second stage, from January 2015 all motors will need to reach IE3 efficiency levels (or IE2 combined with variable speed drives). Generally referred to as EU MEPS (Minimum Energy Performance Standard), the requirement covers most two, four and six pole motors in the power range of 0.75 to 375 kW (kilowatt) for alternating current (AC) power supply frequencies of 50 and 60 Hz (Hertz).

It is estimated* that this regulation will impact some 30 million old industrial motors in Europe alone, which will gradually be replaced, resulting in energy savings in the vicinity of 5.5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity each year and an equivalent reduction of 3.4 million tons of CO2. Proof that energy efficiency measures can be profitable for the environment and for the investor is the fact that investment payback can be achieved in one to three years (and in under one year when combined with variable speed controls).

Even though EU MEPS covers only European Union markets, other countries including Australia, China, Brazil and Canada have already implemented similar energy efficiency schemes and participate actively in the IEC. In the US the NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) motor energy efficiency programme corresponds closely to the IEC energy classifications, for example NEMA Premium is identical to IE3 and NEMA motors have to be tested in accordance with the IEC testing protocol contained in IEC 60034-2-1. Standards are only one part of the equation: assessment of conformity to energy efficiency standards is equally important and is covered by the IEC Conformity Assessment Systems and their members.

Industrial motors are just one area where energy efficiency standards can significantly lower energy use. For example, IEC behind-the-scene work enabled the roll-out of the 1 Watt stand-by-power regulations worldwide and is crucial for putting in place and connecting new renewable sources of power to gradually-smarter grids. Using power more efficiently is probably the biggest renewable energy source out there. The saga continues.

* ZVEH – Zentralverband der Deutschen Elektro- und Informationstechnischen Handwerke (Central Association of the German Electrical and Information Technology Industries)

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