How the motors of the global economy can contribute to climate goals

At the COP24 climate conference in Katowice, Poland, ABB is championing energy efficient digital technologies for electric motors

Wherever you are reading this right now, stop and listen. That gentle thrumming you hear could be a tremendous opportunity in the fight against global warming.

Unlike many climate solutions, which require political consensus or heavy investment, energy efficient technologies can be easily and quickly deployed and they tend to pay for themselves through lower energy bills. And of all the opportunities to save energy today, the largest comes from electric motors, which consume more than half of the world’s electricity.

Electric motors are everywhere; they propel our commuter trains, pump our water, turn the fans in our air conditioners, and power our industries and building operations. In short, they are indispensable to the global economy. And demand is increasing, especially in developing countries, which are investing heavily in electrifying transportation and replacing fossil fuel-fired boilers with heat pumps.

As the world leader in electric motors and drives, pioneering technology leader ABB has long argued that replacing inefficient motors with newer models capable of adjusting their speed according to load would deliver significant energy savings. If this were done with all of the 300 million motors in service today, total global energy consumption could be reduced by 10 percent. In most cases, the new motors would pay for themselves within a modest timeframe through lower energy bills.

Making motors smart

Since 2016, it has been possible to optimize electric motors further, thanks to a smart sensor device developed by ABB that connects low-voltage electric motors to the industrial internet. The first such device of its kind on the market, the ABB Ability Smart Sensor transmits information on vibration, temperature and loads, as well as power consumption. The data is uploaded to the cloud, and alerts are generated as soon as any of the parameters deviates from the norm. That way the operator can take preventive action in case of a potential malfunction as well as determine whether the motor needs upgrading or replacing to a more suitable model.

ABB motor connected with the ABB Ability™ Smart Sensor, which provides key data on the motor's condition and performance.
ABB motor connected with the ABB Ability™ Smart Sensor, which provides key data on the motor's condition and performance.

The smart sensor supports customers to increase productivity and energy efficiency in their facilities. It serves as an early warning system that helps customers avoid unexpected downtime; it helps keeps maintenance people safe as they can monitor machines from a distance, and it can help to identify where energy is lost by calculating energy consumption and load cycles. If all of the 300 million industrial electric motors worldwide were equipped with smart sensors, the energy savings would be equivalent to the output of 100 large power plants.

ABB drives also enable customers to be more energy efficient on site. For example, the new liquid-cooling removes the needs for air cooling. Meanwhile, the new ABB regenerative variable speed drives capture braking energy from electric motors and return it to the network as clean electricity, free of harmonics.

Mandatory performance standards

Most developed countries are well underway in the transition to energy-efficient motors, with more than 40 having mandatory minimum-energy performance standards. They have shown that such regulations are an effective instrument to transform markets for electric motors.

However, many developing countries are only now starting to explore and implement such policies. In the meantime, they are in danger of becoming destinations for older-style inferior motors that are not acceptable elsewhere. That would pose longer-term climate risks, because most motors have long lifetimes, often operating for 20 years or more.

The shift towards energy efficient products is being supported by United for Efficiency (U4E), a United Nations initiative supported by ABB that helps developing countries to move to energy-efficient appliances and equipment.

ABB at COP24

ABB has a significant presence at the COP24 climate conference, which runs from December 2-14, 2018, in Katowice, Poland. As well as presenting new technologies that contribute to climate goals, ABB is sharing expertise and ideas on transitioning to a low-carbon energy system, on improving industrial efficiency and productivity, and on developing sustainable cities and transport systems.

ABB contributes to climate goals by encouraging the early and rapid adoption of clean technologies and by helping its customers improve energy efficiency and productivity while extending the lifecycles of their equipment and reducing waste. More than half of ABB’s global revenues are derived from technologies that directly address the causes of climate change, and it aims to increase that contribution to 60 percent by 2020.

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