The Secret Ingredient of Sustainability

There’s never been a better time to talk sustainability. New technologies emerge monthly that promise future efficiencies. Improvements to existing systems abound, and study results released regularly verify the need for business decisions that take human health, resource efficiency, and environmental sustainability into account.


As inventions come to life and improvements occur, are we missing the easy stuff?


For instance, the renewable energy sector is exciting, and many people look there for future answers to current problems. But those answers are slowly developing and currently rely on some sizable variables including the nation’s electrical grid stability and massive government subsidies.


How about a current answer to a current problem?


Reduce energy consumption on a local level. Simply put: lowering a building’s energy demand is among the fastest and most efficient ways to reduce the carbon footprint.


Industrial Energy Consumption

motorsIn the United States, industrial buildings account for over 40% of the nation’s electricity use and the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy reports that electric motors alone are responsible for a staggering 50% of all electricity consumption in the U.S. Studies also show that our country’s over 5 million commercial buildings waste as much as 40% of the energy they demand.


The most effective way to reduce energy waste and lower the operational costs of a building rests with the motors. Installing premium efficient motors in HVAC/R environments and in the systems that drive manufacturing processes is low-hanging fruit in achieving an energy efficient building. In the U.S., motor upgrades continue to be an untapped approach. Despite over $35 billion spent on building automation systems in the commercial sector in 2013, studies have shown approximately 94% of those buildings are not using efficient automation technologies capable of reducing overall energy consumption.


The Creation of Premium Efficient Motors

The motor industry is making it increasingly easy to improve industrial efficiencies with the creation of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) Premium Program. Motors that qualify for the NEMA Premium designation are highly efficient units that meet the needs of users and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) based on a standard definition of “premium efficiency.”


According to, “It is estimated that the NEMA Premium efficiency motor program would save 5,800 gigawatts of electricity. Those savings translate to preventing nearly 80 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the next 10 years — equivalent to keeping 16 million cars off the road.”


Small Motor Legislation Changes the Game

The potential impact of premium efficient motors on a large scale received a significant boost when the United States Department of Energy implemented its Small Motor Legislation in 2015.


The Small Motor Legislation was enacted by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2015 and requires motor manufacturers to end the production of those units that do not meet new efficiency standards by March 2015.


The legislation is designed to improve the performance of the following motors:


  • Small motors from ½ to 3HP
  • The speed or poles would include 2, 4, and 6 pole design
  • 2-digit frame numbers: 42, 48, and 56 frame motors and equivalent frame size motors
  • Open construction and either 3-phase, cap start-induction run, or start/cap run designs
  • Continuous duty that meets NEMA service factor


The new motors will provide the following benefits:


  • A longer life cycle achieved through increased efficiency, cooler operating temperature, Class H wire, Class F insulation, and Class F lead wires
  • Cooler operating temperature results from increased winding size which extends the bearing life and reduces insulation deterioration
  • Improved electrical steel quality reduces energy losses and increases overall efficiency
  • Magnetic flux losses reduced through tighter machining tolerances between the stator and rotor
  • Rotors achieve lower resistance due to a particular slot design and higher-grade aluminum bars which improve performance and efficiency.


Savings will differ based on the design and specs of each unit, but the new motors will not need the same amount of energy to perform at the same level as the non-regulated motors. On average, the new motor designs are expected to generate savings of more than 20%.


Motors: An Untapped Approach Toward Savings

Motor efficiency gains translate to operational savings, and facility managers are increasingly identifying the opportunity. One California study recently found that replacing a 480W motor with a premium efficient alternative generated savings of $189 per year. On an individual basis that number is small, but with a simple payback period of under three years and projected on a much larger scale, these savings stand to become considerable.


In addition to saving energy and reducing the burden of your monthly utility bill, premium efficiency motors can reduce operational costs in other ways. These motors can eliminate the need to expand the electrical supply system capacity of your facility. On a much larger scale, such efficiency measures can allow the electrical utilities to avoid building expensive new power-producing plants, which maintains lower costs for all users.

Motor Replacement Guidelines

motorsReducing your building’s thirst for energy begins with the correct selection and use of premium efficient motors. For help gathering, all the relevant information needed to replace a motor, check out this nameplate motor resource. Once you have the nameplate data, annual operating hours, and your electrical rates, calculating your simple payback period enables a data-driven decision to be made.


Ideal opportunities for choosing premium efficient motors include:


  1. Purchasing a new motor in horsepower and speed ratings where efficient units are sold.
  2. Instead of rewinding failed motors (which always produce a loss in efficiency).
  3. Replacing a motor that operable but inefficient.


In addition, premium efficient motors should always be specified for the following:


  1. New installations
  2. Major modifications made to existing facility or processes
  3. New OEM products containing electric motors
  4. Purchase of spare motors
  5. Motors that would otherwise be rewound
  6. Replacement of oversized motors (operating at less than 40% of rated output)
  7. Motor replacement as part of an energy management plan
  8. When rebates or other incentives make retrofits immediately cost-effective


The Department of Energy estimates the cost of electricity to be more than 90% of the total cost of a motor over its expected 20-year life. In an article titled, How Much Do Electric Motors Cost,” John O’Brien stated, “One 200 hp pump motor running six days a week for 50 weeks a year will cost more than $70,000 at the end of one year. Interestingly enough, most end-users spend more time negotiating the initial purchase price of a motor than understanding the actual cost of operating that motor.”


The current problem is that electric motors account for approximately $85 out of every $100 of a manufacturing plant’s electrical bill.


Premium efficient motors are a current solution.

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