The case for industrial energy efficiency: thinking global and acting local

ABB Australia Pty Ltd

By R. Narayanan, Group Senior Vice President and Head of ABB Motion, Asia.
Wednesday, 14 February, 2024

The case for industrial energy efficiency: thinking global and acting local

Companies worldwide are navigating challenges related to geopolitical uncertainties and a strained value chain including for commodities, components and people. But one thing remains at the top of the business agenda — mitigating climate change.

The need for energy independence

Electricity demand has been anticipated to grow more than 10 times faster than other forms of energy over 2022–2030, resulting in around 50% higher than average annual investment in electricity networks in 2022–2023 (vs 2016–2022), according to the IEA World Energy Outlook 2023.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that energy efficiency will deliver a full quarter of the entire world’s emissions reductions to 2050. Electrification is anticipated to deliver a further 20%.

In our part of the world, recent research commissioned by the Energy Efficiency Council ANZ confirms these international figures hold here in Australia. Energy efficiency and electrification can deliver 14% and 26% of Australia’s emissions reductions respectively, at low cost.

Thinking global and acting local

At COP28 the Australian Government joined the signatories of the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge. These signatories declared that they will participate in tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 and doubling energy efficiency improvements year on year.

When it comes to industrial energy efficiency, we need to look in our own backyards and realise the actions we can take today — to not only acknowledge energy efficiency as the first step in reducing carbon emissions, but intently apply it.

Scaling technological solutions

Electric motors are the workhorse of industries and hold sizeable potential for energy savings. They are essential to almost every sector, yet many are inefficient. Industrial electric motors and the systems they drive use approximately 45% of the world’s energy. Fortunately, advanced motor designs offer higher efficiency, which makes upgrading motors an effective way to reduce energy consumption.

The most efficient motors today are synchronous reluctance motors (SynRM), which deliver IE5 efficiency by being paired with a variable speed drive (VSD). Upgrading from an existing IE2 motor to an IE5 SynRM motor-drive package cuts energy losses by approximately 50%, consequently offering financial savings on energy costs.

A VSD adjusts a motor’s speed to correspond with its load requirements, which means whenever a motor is not operating at full speed, it’s saving power. Slowing a motor can produce significant savings. For example, reducing a motor’s speed by just 20% reduces energy use by 50%.

This is especially important as around three in four motors run pumps, fans and compressors, which rarely need to operate continuously at full speed. In common applications, adding a VSD can deliver savings of 30% on average. Despite this, only around 23% of the world’s electric motors are energy optimised through the control of a VSD, so industrial businesses are missing out on a significant opportunity to save electricity.

Data-driven efficiency insights

In addition to hardware improvements, digitalisation takes energy efficiency to the next level. Even small upgrades can have a big impact when it comes to reducing industrial energy consumption.

Digitally connected drives transmit real-time data from the motor and driven machine to show exactly how much energy is being used. Operators can then analyse this data, identify potential inefficiencies and take action to address them — thus increasing their energy efficiency while maintaining process quality and reliability.

The additional upside of acquiring data-driven insights and having an effective service partnership in place, is that businesses can prevent unplanned downtime, which is currently costing the typical Australian industrial business $349,000 per hour, compared to $194,000 globally, as revealed in a recent survey.

Promoting energy efficiency through collaboration

Multi-stakeholder initiatives like the Energy Efficiency Movement (EEM) will continue to be integral for raising awareness and spurring action to combat climate change through collaboration.

In November 2022 the EEM released the ‘Industrial energy efficiency playbook’, which makes the business case clear — in both financial and CO2 impacts, energy efficiency pays off. The playbook lists 10 key energy efficiency actions for industrial leaders. These include auditing operations for energy efficiency, bringing digital connectivity to physical assets, and using high-efficiency motors with variable speed drives.

Facing the task at hand, head-on

To significantly contribute to the IEA’s Net Zero Roadmap, which aims to keep the 1.5°C goal attainable, Australia will need to strengthen its transition to high-efficiency technology, enable its operations digitally, and participate in more collaborative partnerships that are committed to achieving double the energy efficiency improvement ambition for this decade.

R. Narayanan joined ABB in 1989 and has held a range of roles including key leadership positions. He was appointed Group Senior Vice President and Head of ABB Motion, Asia, in 2019 and is also currently at the helm of ABB’s Motion business in Australia.

Top image credit: Mihai

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