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Proposed Motor Efficiency Standards Will Lead to Big Electricity Savings

Motor Efficiency and Electricity

Meg Waltner, Manager, Building Energy Policy, San Francisco, CA

Like the vast majority of Americans, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about electric motors in the 1 to 500 horsepower range. Astoundingly, though, these motors consume about 50 percent of all the electricity used by industry in the United States. That’s right: 50 percent. That’s why the issuance today of long-overdue proposed energy-efficiency standards for electric motors by the U.S. Department of Energy is particularly important news. What’s more, these proposed standards were set at levels supported by both motor manufacturers and efficiency advocates, including NRDC. When you have advocates and manufacturers agreeing on efficiency standards for 50 percent of the U.S.’s industrial electricity use, that’s a big deal!

Like recently proposed efficiency standards for walk-in freezers and coolers, commercial refrigeration equipment and metal halide lamps, these electric motor standards will take a big bite out of U.S. energy consumption. In fact, over 30 years, the motor standards will save about seven quads of energy— that’s roughly equivalent to 1 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity, enough electricity to power almost every home in the US for a year. The money savings aren’t chump change either; over 30 years, they’re estimated to save consumers approximately $23.3 billion total. Add to that cumulative carbon dioxide reductions of nearly 400 million metric tons—about the same as taking 82.5 million cars off the road for a year—and you’ve got a pretty impressive package. The new standards can have another important impact, too. That impact can be felt across the globe, where U.S. standards are influencing overseas manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their motors, too.

All this is great news not just for our climate and our wallets but also for U.S. industry and jobseekers. While most of us don’t really think about electric motors, every device or piece of equipment that uses electricity to make something move most likely uses a motor to do that work. Across the United States, buildings and industry employ electric motors, like the ones to which the proposed standards will apply, for everything from fans and pumps to elevators, conveyor belts and other applications. Today’s efficiency standards, once in effect, will cut costs for businesses and consumers, making industries more competitive in the global marketplace and here at home, too. Those money savings will mean more jobs for Americans as energy-savings dollars are reinvested throughout the economy. 

As I mentioned earlier, like many recent national efficiency standards, this one was negotiated among industry and a sizeable group of stakeholders, including NRDC and other efficiency advocates. While the proposed standard improves the efficiency of motors, the biggest savings come from significantly expanding the types of motors covered by the standards. Under the proposed standard almost all motors between 1-500 horsepower would have to meet the required efficiency levels.

The motor standard is one of several efficiency standards that has been long-delayed. DOE recently committed to meeting deadlines for these standards, and it’s great to see the agency follow through on this commitment.  NRDC played a big role in getting DOE back on track, as a participant in a coalition that pushed DOE forward.

Electric motors and the energy-efficiency standards that make them better and more cost-effective are hardly top-of-mind for most of us. But by proposing new efficiency standards today, the Department of Energy put the importance of electric motors into focus, offering American industry and consumers an opportunity to cut costs, save energy and minimize pollution, too.

Photo Credit: Motor Efficiency Standards/shutterstock

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Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Dec 1, 2013 9:03 pm GMT

I’m suspicious. Efficiency is certainly good. There’s a lot of hype about the benefits. There is no discussion of current efficiencies, improvements, and future efficiencies, and how to achieve them, and at what cost. DOE doesn’t say anything substantial, either. I always thought electric motors were in the 90-99% efficient range. The first thing Google found for me was “Siemens was the first to begin large-scale manufacturing of copper rotor motors, and with efficiencies as high as 93.7%, 

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Dec 2, 2013 1:32 am GMT

Improving electric motor efficiency is only a very small part of the solution to reducing a manufacturing processes’ overall energy consumption.  Agreed, having the Government encourage the development of Residential and some Commercial equipment or appliances efficiency standards is helpful.  But to imply the Government can help significantly improve the efficiency of complex manufacturing facilities is a bit naïve and quite non-value added.  That’s why the Industrial Sector Companies hire Engineers.  Optimizing the capital, operation and maintenance costs of most manufacturing facilities requires much more in depth analysis and evaluation than just arbitrarily establishing electric motor efficiency standards.  Overall manufacturing efficiency improvement investments more often involve addressing energy consumption of equipment connected to the electric motor’s drive shaft or upstream-downstream equipment thermal and yields efficiency performances.   

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