Driving efficiency in energy and beyond with industrial motors

Posted on 16 Apr 2024 by The Manufacturer

Large motors and generators are mission critical for many industries. Since they are a must have, rather than option, it makes good business sense to use the most energy efficient technology possible.

The backbone industries of our global economy – energy, water, shipping, and mining – are undergoing a fundamental shift towards low- or no-carbon operations. Each industry faces unique decarbonization challenges, requiring tailored solutions. However, their reliance on large motors and generators is a common thread. Although large industrial motors – rated at greater than 375 kilowatts (kW) – make up only a tiny fraction of the installed base of 300 million+ motors, they account for nearly 23% of all the electricity motors consume globally. So, since this equipment is essential and impacts approx. 20 years in operation, why not make it as energy efficient as possible?

Highest possible energy efficiency

Current international energy efficiency standards only cover small to medium motors. Large motors and generators with higher power ratings are often excluded from such directives despite driving mission-critical operations across industries. This makes them a sensible starting point for improvement efforts.

The potential for energy savings through large motor and generator solutions is immense, particularly considering their extensive operational hours, often exceeding 8,000 hours annually. Improving their efficiency by even a small percentage can lead to substantial energy savings, potentially translating into tens of kilowatts per unit.

Good is no longer good enough

Despite the absence of uniform energy efficiency standards for high-voltage motors and generators, industry has seen a steady trajectory of technological advancement. Systems now deliver peak energy efficiency while experiencing much less thermal stress and more extended lifespans than just a decade ago.

Yet, manufacturers like ABB still see many traditional-style requests from end users to meet specifications that focus predominantly on initial cost. However, decision-makers must review their approach and explore the most energy-efficient options available, offering lower CO2 emissions and life cycle costs.

One example is ABB’s Top Industrial Efficiency (TIE) option, through which suppliers undertake to provide their most energy-efficient solution for large motors and generators. End users have consequently dramatically reduced their carbon emissions and energy bills.

Thought to action, renewable energy company Ormat Technologies selected an ABB generator designed according to the TIE option for optimized efficiency for a new geothermal project in Indonesia. The generator, which achieves an efficiency level of 98.7%, will enable the plant to minimize losses and optimize the utilization of the geothermal energy source.

The site will save around 200,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually based on Indonesia’s current average energy mix. At the same time, the synchronous generator’s rotating mass will help improve the grid’s stability and short-circuit capability.

Small adjustment, big savings

There are various ways to achieve higher efficiency, the most common being using higher-quality materials in greater quantities or through different configurations. While this approach naturally increases upfront costs, the resulting efficiency gains often translate into a payback period of under two years, depending on electricity prices.

For instance, selecting an option with just 0.2% greater efficiency for a 20 MW motor leads to savings of 800k USD and a reduction of 3,000 tCO2 over a 20-year lifetime. The average payback time is between 6 months and 3 years.

Employing the higher-efficiency TIE option is an undeniable win-win, delivering a net reduction in emissions, even when the motors run entirely on emission-free energy. This is because Current Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) for electricity factor in the environmental impact of creating and maintaining the necessary energy infrastructure.

Standards are needed, but there is no time to wait

The clock is ticking, and we cannot wait for new international energy efficiency standards to be formulated, approved, and implemented.  The necessary technology is readily available, and the time to act is now. Our immediate focus must accelerate its adoption and foster example-led learning between sectors. That is why the TIE option is not exclusive to ABB’s customers; it is available to everyone. By embracing this top industrial efficiency option, we can collectively realize a more sustainable tomorrow without sacrificing financial viability.

Click here to learn more about the benefits of the TIE option for large motors and generators.

Heikki Vepsäläinen is the President of ABB Large Motors and Generators division. With over 30 years of experience at ABB, he has held leadership roles across industrial automation and process industries. Vepsäläinen is spearheading ABB’s initiatives to provide reliable, energy efficient large motors and generators that power industries towards a productive, sustainable future.


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