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The driving force

Motor is the heart of most HVACR equipment. And like any heart, it consumes copious amounts of energy and demands great care and maintenance.

| | Jul 13, 2012 | 9:57 pm
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Motor is the heart of most HVACR equipment. And like any heart, it consumes copious amounts of energy and demands great care and maintenance. Fortunately, unlike its human counterpart, which comes in one fixed model provided by nature, with minor qualitative difference, a man-made motor can be constantly improved upon with technology, and is therefore ever-evolving. The GCC region is trying to keep up with the evolution. By Pratibha Umashankar.

Comfort comes at a high cost. And so does progress. A motor needs to be kept ticking for both – for indoor comfort in homes and offices and to keep the wheels of industry moving. Motors in the commercial and the residential segments in the HVACR sectors combined together, therefore, use up a lot of energy. Motors reportedly consume more than 50% of all the electrical energy generated in the United States and more than 30% of all the electricity used in the commercial sector. Most motors in the commercial sector are used to power HVACR systems. According to industry insiders, it is quite common for a motor to annually consume many times its capital cost in electricity.

The GCC countries, with their energy consumption and carbon footprint highly disproportionate to their size and population, have the dubious track record of emulating their western counterparts in this regard. The Middle East region is considered one of the biggest offenders when it comes to the HVACR industry, causing environmental damage. For this reason, the HVACR sector worldwide, and in the region, has come under a lot of pressure in recent years to opt for motors that are energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable. The challenge is to adopt new technologies that suit the region’s harsh climatic conditions. In this regard, being open to innovative products and educating everyone right across the board are keys to better products and energy savings.

THE ECONOMIC IMPACT

In the last two decades, as the clamour for greener motors increased, major motor manufacturers began earmarking huge sums of money for R&D in the development of new technology, with manufacturers and the engineering fraternity joining hands to maximise energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. But the recession and its unrelenting consequences have had their impact not only on R&D funding but also directly on the market itself, one affecting the other. Thus, the global economic slowdown has had a twofold impact – on innovation and sales.

The region which saw a buoyant market for HVACR products and services during the real estate boom have experienced a slump, which, in turn, has reduced revenues which can be channelised for better technology worldwide. The global markets in the sector have witnessed about 30% lower sales, which is reflected in the markets regionally, especially for traditional AC induction motor, believes Young Chun (James) Jeung, President-Founder, CTO SN Tech Inc, Phoenix, USA and South Korea. “But the market for green motors or smart motors has rapidly grown more than 20% to 30% since 2010,” he says. “Most of the OEMs want to use high-efficiency and smart control motors to add to their product competitiveness. Also, end-users want to cut energy bills. So, the green motor market is moving towards growth.”

The region’s HVACR sector has traditionally had a tremendous potential, and might gather steam in the region’s search for better technology, despite a sluggish construction sector.

GREEN AND SMART TECHNOLOGY

Rising energy costs and global concerns over environmental degradation are encouraging OEMs and suppliers to explore new ways of powering equipment. Lower voltage products that run either independently of the electrical grid or are powered by solar energy is the hallmark of today’s motors. As buildings increasingly become intelligent and green, sustainable technology and smart integration are the buzzwords in the motor industry. Smart integration motor controllers provide integrated solutions for driving low-power single-coil brushless fans and motors.

The addition of variable speed drive provides intelligent and accurate control to the motor, thus reducing power to the exact cooling requirement, or the exact water pressure required.

A section of experts are of the opinion that using a variable speed drive on a fan or a pump can reduce its electric consumption by 30% to 50%. They also posit the view that it may be more expedient to use low-energy-consumption products like smart motors to save energy than investing in mega renewable energy projects like wind or photovoltaic power plants, which demand heavy investments. “This is the reason why the US Government and Department of Energy have developed a new strategy to encourage using high-efficiency motors, such as smart motors or green motors, which can control speed by electronic device and permanent magnet rotor, as there is a lot of wastage in AC induction motors,” Jeung says. “Also, if ECMs (Electronically Commutated Motors) are used in HVACR applications instead of AC motors, we can reduce CO2 emission equaling to 1,000,000 cars per year. Therefore, AC induction motors are now like the ‘legacy’ light bulbs – relics that will be replaced by ECMs, just as LED lighting will phase out old bulbs within the next 10 years.”

Thus, intelligent variable-speed drives are being integrated into motors that convert electrical energy into mechanical energy to save on power and for better control of temperature, humidity and fresh air. Speaking about his own company’s initiatives, Jeung says, “SN Tech has developed not only intelligent variable speed motors but also intelligent operating software to serve various HVAC applications.”

Green motors operate in a wide range of linear step-less speed controls and are used for HVACR systems like air conditioners, fans, blowers, air drying units, gate and door air curtains and air conditioned transportation systems.

Jeung estimates that most of the HVACR applications in the residential segment use less than 1 Hp motor for 70% of the demands and that the commercial and industrial HVACR sectors uses 2 to 5 Hp motors for 30% of the demands. “The hermetic ECM will be a great opportunity to develop smart compressors, which can save more than 40% of electricity consumption compared to conventional compressors,” Jeung says.

All the innovations would prove beneficial to the region, which is facing an energy crisis, and particularly to Qatar, which is gearing up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and Saudi Arabia, which has huge housing projects under way. Supporting this view, Jeung says that the HVACR motor market could be over 70% of the total motor market in the GCC region. “We are really interested in developing the Saudi HVACR market since there is a great potential to save energy against huge electricity consumption,” he elaborates.

THE RETROFIT MARKET

With a move towards smart/intelligent and green buildings, there is a great potential even for the retrofit market as existing buildings are moving towards replacing AC motors. In fact, Jeung believes that at present, the retrofit market is bigger than the OEM market. “Since we don’t have a presence in the Kingdom and Qatar, we are looking forward to engaging with local OEM and HVACR motor distributors for the retrofit market,” he says.

WHY ECM?

ECM technology is based on a brushless DC permanent magnet design that is inherently more efficient than the shaded-pole and permanent-split-capacitor (PSC) motors. PSC induction motors are, or used to be, the common feature in air handlers, air conditioners and refrigeration applications right across the HVACR industry. The ECM motors are made of two components – a motor control (control module) and a motor, sometimes called the motor module. By combining electronic controls with brushless DC motors, ECMs can maintain efficiency across a wide range of operating speeds. (Info from: http://www.marathonelectric.in/marathon-technology-innovation/ecm-motors.html)

In a nutshell, the ECM motor is a three-phase motor with a permanent magnet rotor, which contributes to the electrical efficiency. Also, it has the sensor-less ability to control the revolutions per minute (rpm) and commutation (when to alternate the cycle). DC motors typically require brushes to set the commutation function, while ECM motors do not. In this sense, they are brushless DC motors. The sum total of the benefits the technology offers is: increased electrical efficiency, combating energy loss, the ability to programme a more precise operation of the motor and enhanced indoor comfort. Therefore, it is used in over a wide spectrum of HVACR system performance applications ranging from pumps, furnace fans and air conditioner fans and blowers to garage door openers and air compressors. For these reasons, ECMs, have rapidly gained favour in the motor sector in the United States, and are being widely used in its residential HVACR systems. They have also found acceptance in the region, as it moves rapidly towards a greener HVACR market.

Jeung confirms this when he says: “The ECM technology would be a key element in HVACR applications in the near future. Already, there is a shift towards it in the HVACR market in North America. The region basically needs wide speed control motors with smart programming in order to adapt to various optimal controlling in HVACR applications and environments, and especially requires high temperature and humidity reliability as the temperatures in the GCC region can reach up to 50ºC and 95% humidity with the desert and sea around.”

CHALLENGES

The motor sector in the region typically faces the challenges that can be termed the “usual suspects”:

Installation challenges – lack of awareness and non-conformity to installation manuals

Lack of stringent regulations – the region lags behind in best practices, as there is no stringent legislation in place covering the motors industry

Price versus quality issues – price dictating terms over quality due to economic slowdown, resulting in substandard products making inroads into the market. This can be linked to lack of regulation, owing to which, energy efficiency is neglected and purchase decisions are solely based on price, with sustainability, performance, reliability and longevity becoming casualties

Sizing – many motor systems are oversized, resulting in running at low efficiency

CONCLUSION

The motor industry is undergoing tremendous change as a result of demand for greater performance and energy efficiency, reliability and cost cutting. A motor is now required to perform the functions of the heart as well as the brain of an equipment. Rising energy costs and environmental concerns are encouraging OEMs and suppliers to investigate new ways of powering equipment and also going for retrofitting. Therefore, manufacturers and engineers have been endeavouring to come up with smarter and greener technology options. Both the industry and the market are ready for innovative solutions. However, the industry itself has seen a reduction in R&D funding in the last three years due to the global economic slowdown. The GCC region is trying to keep pace with these changes and challenges. There being a demand for retrofits is a healthy sign.

The electric motor sector in the region is undergoing a significant transformation owing to global market consolidation and the emergence of international competitors, as also the awareness that smarter and greener motors are eventually more cost effective and that money invested in new technology will yield benefits, both economic and environmental. Investigating new ways of powering motors include designing lower-voltage products that can either run independently of the electrical grid or on solar power.

But for now, when it comes to innovation in the motors vis-à-vis the HVACR sector, ECM technology is envisaged as the solution. ECM manufacturers are developing high-reliability motors to suit the high temperatures and humidity in the region, which is on the path of course correction after decades of indiscriminate energy use.

Reducing the carbon footprint is the top priority for the region. Reducing noise levels is also high on the agenda, when it comes to the HVACR equipment. The GCC states could play a vital role in this regard by de-subsidising power, which has led to unsustainable consumer behaviour patterns. As a corollary to this, green products need to be subsidised. Also, tighter regulations governing equipment, maintenance and installation practices help the lifespan and performance of motors. Standards formulated and being followed in the West will eventually become mandatory in the Middle East. Rising cost of equipment and energy, if not concern for the environment, will finally force errant parties to toe the line: As energy gets increasingly expensive the world over, it will become unfeasible for the GCC states to continue to dole it out cheaply. When energy bills begin to bite, investing in better quality products and using them optimally will become the norm. It is only a matter of time.


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