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Higher  efficiency electric motors will drive down energy consumption 

by Media Xpose

The adoption of new Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) for electric motors in South Africa, will provide significant  energy savings and in so doing alleviate pressure on the country’s electricity supply crisis, whilst improving operational competitiveness. 

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), SANEDI, together with CLASP  have recently completed a second cost benefit analysis (CBA)  to determine the economic and environmental benefits  of introducing  MEPS for electric motors in South Africa. South Africa’s industrial sector is dominated by motors that fall under the lowest class of international efficiency standards (IE1). 

Entitled “Cost-benefit analysis to introduce Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) for Electric Motors in South Africa”, the report found that national electricity demand could  potentially be reduced by as much as 0.25% in 2023 should the inefficient IE1 motors be replaced with more efficiently rated IE3 ones. IE3 electric motor units have a premium efficiency rating of 94.2% with potential energy savings of between 15% and 16%.

South Africa’s economy depends on energy-intensive industries such as mining, chemicals, agriculture, iron, and cement making. These industries all run electric motors for extended periods, even up to 17 hours a day. The CBA sstudy revealed that about 32 companies in these sectors consume about 40% of the country’s electrical energy. 

It is therefore imperative that the country adopts MEPS and  energy labels that are supported by government best practice awareness programmes. Collectively, these actions will accelerate the transition  to more efficient motor system applications. “Electric motors are not only used in heavy industry, they are ubiquitous and we use them constantly without realizing. Implementing the CBA recommendations should be treated as a priority, and aligns with President Ramaphosa recently announced energy crisis plan which seeks to conserve energy usage” said Dr Theo Covary who led the CBA research 

The repair of motors and the pre-used sales sector was identified as a barrier to the government’s energy efficiency efforts. Standard and labelling programme do not typically regulate the second-hand market. This meaningfully slows down the pace at which standard and labelling policy objectives can be achieved. The report calls for companies to refrain from selling their old electric motors, which are most likely non-compliant with the new energy performance standards; particularly to the agricultural sector where emerging farmers would be the most likely recipients. 

Some South African distributors are already making the shift towards IE3 electric motor units, and support the government’s intention to forge ahead with the new efficiency standards programme which is now long overdue, in the Covary’s view.

In line with international standards, the report recommends that the DMRE  should proceed in implementing MEPS for level IE3 electric motors in the 0.75 to 375 kilo-watt range for 2, 4, 6, and 8 pole motors. In its research, it considered the Urban-Econ Feasibility Study of 2019 to help reach its conclusions. This study suggested that 200 000 electric motor units are sold each year in South Africa, with at least 69% of them between the 0.75 and 11 kilo-watt size range. Of these, between 40% and 50% have no stated energy rating, with the implication that they are the most inefficient motors available on the market. 

The report also assumes that the new performance standards will be formally introduced in 2023, to allow affected stakeholders a transition period to adjust to costs and move to IE3 electric motors. Eskom’s own Integrated Annual Report for the year, also finds that more efficient MEPS will have the potential to reduce electricity demand by 0.25% in 2023. This will also increase as older electric motors are replaced with the newer IE3 models over time. 

The CBAreport concludes that if the electric motor MEPS programme is effective, it should offer meaningful electricity savings which will directly benefit Eskom. Not only will it assist Eskom with its current supply challenge, but it will improve the competitiveness of South Africa’s industrial base, by reducing load shedding risks and operational costs. 

Electric motor parts and structure

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