How to save $3 trillion

Image courtesy 401(K) 2013 on Flickr

Who says all the low-hanging fruit in energy efficiency has been picked?

According to the International Energy Agency, the Paris-based energy consumers’ club, industry could still axe its energy bills by a breathtaking $3.3 trillion by 2035.

Some of that reduction is even relatively easy. The IEA, created after the 1973 oil crisis, argues massive savings can be made just by upgrading the efficiency of the millions of motors and motor-driven systems used in industrial applications throughout the world.

Such equipment, says the IEA in its World Energy Outlook 2012, consumes about 40 percent of global electricity – more than any other single use on Earth. Harnessing technologies available today, such as linking electrical motors with semiconductor-based drive systems, could boost the motors’ efficiency by 10-15 percent. That’s the same as reducing global electricity consumption by about 5 percent. Just imagine the impact in terms of lower emissions of greenhouse gases.

The IEA, in the Outlook’s Efficient World Scenario, has more tips for saving power. All are based on technologies and manufacturing best practice available today.

The list includes requiring all new manufacturing equipment by 2015 be as efficient as the best available and removing all less than efficient “legacy” plant five years earlier than currently planned. Factories should also adjust their manufacturing processes, when applicable, to local conditions. And companies should install and implement manufacturing process control and energy management systems across the board.

Of course, such upgrades come at a cost. But even here the tab seems bearable – especially considering the massive amounts companies spend each year on maintenance and on new installations. The IEA reckons it would cost about $1.1 trillion by 2035 to implement its suggestions. That may sound a fortune, but compare it with the $180 billion spent in 2011 alone on improving energy efficiency worldwide, including power, transport, industry and buildings, notes the IEA.

“The cumulative additional investments in industry reach $1.1 trillion by 2035, giving rise to $3.3 trillion in energy bill savings over the same time frame,” it argues. (IEA World Energy Outlook 2012, p.312).

Drives are a great example of how a comparatively modest and inexpensive modification can produce substantial savings over the life of a facility. Few non specialists know it, but most electric motors do not necessarily run at their ideal speed, but have to be slowed by brakes as required. Adding a drive allows such the motors to match their speeds to the ideal required – reducing the electricity they consume.

To gain a sense of the scale of the potential savings, remember, industrial electric motors are virtually everywhere: pumping water, running fans and air conditioning, conveying goods over belts, rolling steel and moving lifts and hoists. Together, they account for about 40 percent of all the electricity consumed worldwide.

“The future potential for energy and cost savings is enormous since only about 10 percent of industrial motors are combined currently with electric drives,” says ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer.

ABB estimates that its installed base of drives saved no less than 355 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electric energy in 2012 – 15 percent up on the previous year.

Those savings corresponded to about 300 million tons of CO2 emissions (had the power concerned been generated exclusively from fossil fuels), or roughly $23 billion of cheaper electricity bills for industrial consumers (at US industrial electricity prices in May 2013). Put another way, the electricity savings were about as much as the power generated by around 35 nuclear reactors. Not bad for an “easy win” for the environment.

To view our interactive maps, click here.

Editor’s note: this article was written by freelance writer Haig Simonian and published by Ilona Braverman. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of ABB or its employees.

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About the author

Ilona Braverman

I am the Newsroom Manager with the corporate communications team. Prior to moving to Zurich, I spent over a decade writing, producing, marketing and production coordinating for Fox News in New York City. When I am not working, or enjoying all of the beautiful cities around me, I am busy dancing, cooking or probably making everyone around me howl with laughter.
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