European Threat Perspective

Energy efficiency: The untapped opportunity to cut global electricity consumption by 10%

22 November 2021

A major achievement of the COP26 climate summit was that 90% of the world is now covered by net zero targets. As a result, political leaders have a renewed focus on reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and setting targets. Energy efficiency is an essential strategy in achieving these goals.

Building on the COP26 discussions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has launched its Energy Efficiency 2021 report. Its key finding is that annual investment in energy efficiency worldwide needs to triple by 2030 to meet the IEA’s roadmap to achieving Net Zero by 2050.

The organisation is calling for governments to mobilise the required investment. Energy efficiency can be considered as the “first fuel” as it makes the most of existing energy and avoids the need to develop new resources. Industrial motors in particular hold huge potential for energy efficiency measures. 

Kevin Lane, Energy Analyst, International Energy Agency (IEA), says: “Energy efficiency is the cleanest and cheapest way to meet our energy needs and is essential to meeting Net Zero. More than 40% of the required emissions reductions for Net Zero can come from energy efficiency programs and other measures that pay for themselves such as reducing gas leakage and tapping into renewable energy. Industrial energy efficiency is vital in combatting the worst effects of climate change.”

Motors may not be highly visible, but they are central to our way of life, from processing food and water to powering transport and cooling data centres. Today’s electric motors consume more than 45% of the world’s electricity. And with a population that is growing and a rapidly growing economy, the world is set to see the number of motors double by 2040. 

“Too many of the world’s industrial motor-driven systems are outdated and inefficient. Investing in the latest energy-efficient technology has huge potential to reduce our reliance on energy resources,” said Morten Wierod, President of ABB Motion. “According to our research, upgrading the world’s 300 million industrial motor-driven systems with optimised, high-efficiency equipment would reduce global electricity consumption by up to 10%. That’s more than 90% of the annual consumption of the entire EU.” 

The EU is already legislating for enhanced energy efficiency and expresses, motor efficiency in International Energy (IE) classes ranging from IE1 to IE5. It estimates that requiring new motors to provide at least IE3 premium efficiency will save 110TWh annually by 2030. This is equivalent to 40 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and €20 billion (£17 billion) in energy bills per year. It’s possible to save a further 25% energy or more by adding a variable speed drive (VSD). 

However, forward-thinking businesses are already installing IE4 super-premium and IE5 ultra-premium efficiency motors and drives to achieve even higher savings and future-proof their operations. 

One example that shows the value of energy efficiency is ArcelorMittal’s Dabrowa Górnicza steel plant in Poland. It has upgraded 23 pumps and fans with the latest ABB medium and low-voltage drive and motor technology and is now saving 15 GWh annually, equivalent to the electricity consumption of 8,600 average Polish households. 

In Norway, Yara is Europe’s largest fertilizer supplier and has the goal of becoming emissions-free. It is already saving 16 GWh of energy annually, having replaced 1,000 existing motors with IE3-rated units and installing drives on 75% of these. Its next step is to replace a further 2,500 motors with IE5 SynRM motor and drive packages, primarily for pumps and fans. The savings potential from this second phase is 32-40 GWh and the operator will achieve further value with the recycling of raw materials in the old motors.

The Renewcell textile recycling business in Sweden is making fashion more sustainable and will save energy in the process.  The company will recycle fibres from old clothes into new textiles – a process that can save up to 90 billion litres of freshwater per year. It has installed 174 IE4 motors and 96 drives to power pumps and compressors in an arrangement similar to flow-controlled pulp and paper production, which typically reduces energy consumption by 30% or more. 

Meanwhile, water utility Evides Waterbedrijf in the Netherlands has installed highly efficient SynRM motor and drives technology at its new Nieuwdorp pumping station. An investment that has cut energy use by around 20%. 

In Belgium, the Südzucker Group produces sugar from 21,000 tons of beets during a 120-day season. It chose ABB’s SynRM IE5 motors and drives to replace the motors on its beet slicers. This investment now saves 158,000 kWh and 120 tons of CO2 emissions annually, showing that even relatively modest motor upgrades can have significant benefits. 

High-efficiency technology is also being used to extract residual heat from water source heat pumps.  A new hybrid renewable district heating plant will enable the Danish city of Esbjerg to become carbon neutral by 2030.  Its operator DIN Forsyning is investing in a seawater heat pump system from MAN Energy Solutions. The plant, powered by offshore wind energy, will supply the city’s heating network. ABB medium-voltage variable speed drives, motors and controllers will ensure high-efficiency operation of the heat pump system. 

The Queens Quay district heating system in Glasgow is the UK’s first large-scale water source heat pump scheme. Its operator, Vital Energi, is drawing water from the River Clyde to generate heat for homes and businesses. It has installed two 900 kW IE4 energy-efficient motors with VSD control for the compressors that extract residual heat from the river. The approach creates 90% fewer CO2 emissions than burning fossil fuels and has reduced CO2 emissions by 409 tons in its first year. 

And finally, industrial heat pump technology is also saving energy for a renowned food company in Finland. Oilon’s high-temperature heat pumps, delivered with ABB drives, recover lost heat and produce heat energy for Snellman’s meat processing facility in Pietarsaari. With eight units installed, the facility has reduced emissions by 8,700 tonnes a year. 

“The examples are a perfect illustration that effective energy efficiency technologies are commercially available and are already making a significant difference in driving down carbon emissions and energy bills,” said Pekka Tiitinen, ABB’s Business Manager for Northern Europe. “It’s clear that investing in energy efficiency is a win-win for both business and the planet.”  


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