Drive for efficiency sparks debate

Kevin Rudd's plan to fight climate change has led to concerns in the manufacturing industry over rising electricity prices and the subsequent impact on motors and drives.

The ongoing debate over the Federal Government’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme has generated widespread uncertainty not only inside Parliament House but inside the factories of industrial Australia.

As the Government makes a final attempt to pass the CPRS legislation through Parliament this February and formally set Australia’s carbon pollution reduction targets, the manufacturing industry is bracing for mass changes in practice and production to accommodate predicted rising electricity prices.

Under the proposed CPRS, the price of electricity is expected to skyrocket in the next decade due to the inclusion of the carbon price with the cost of electricity generation. Electricity generation accounts for the largest share of Australia’s current emissions and will require a significant transformation under the scheme. Investing in energy efficient motors and drives is one practical solution available to manufacturers for minimising carbon emissions and energy costs.

Frank Cerra, Engineering Manager with SEW-Eurodrive says with the possibility of rising electricity costs, manufacturers are trying to reduce their energy consumption by improving production efficiency.

“There has been a growing awareness of energy efficiency and there is an expectation from industry that electricity prices will rise. Here, manufacturers are looking at ways to reduce energy consumption and costs over time,” Cerra said.

Sean Richardson, Product Manager with WEG Automation says the proposed CPRS will change the way motors and drives are viewed in Australia.

“End-users are talking about increasing motor efficiency, system efficiency and reducing carbon footprint. People will have to reduce their emissions so they don’t have to pay as much tax on carbon,” Richardson said.

“We’ve already had a fairly large push on increasing system efficiency anyway but what will potentially change are our customers buying habits in the drive for lower emissions and therefore lower costs.”

NSW, which accounts for 32% of Australia’s manufacturing market will be hit hard by rising electricity prices according to a recent report by the state’s pricing regulator, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).

According to the report, NSW electricity prices are set to rise between 58 and 62% over the next three years, mostly due to CPRS obligations on electricity generation.

For the motors and drives industry, meeting these targets will be a challenge according to Richardson.

“The amount of efficiency you can get out of a motor is not enough with such a big increase in electricity prices. One is not going to offset the other and rising electricity prices will put the cost of manufacturing, the cost of consumption and the cost of usage up.”

Richardson likens the effect of the price increase on motors and drives to petrol. He believes that in the same way it would be highly unlikely for car manufacturers to produce a car which uses 50% less fuel if petrol prices were to double, it would also be highly unlikely for motors and drives manufacturers to offset rising electricity prices through efficiency levels.

Cerra believes manufacturers can save when it comes to motors and drives by considering the total life cycle cost of the both the motor and the complete drive system. He says the correct sizing and selection of individual drive-train components can optimise system performance and therefore increase energy savings.

“Motors are already a high efficiency product. If people want to reduce their energy consumption, yes they have to look at motor efficiency but also look at what it’s driving,” Cerra said.

“At the end of the day, the motor is part of the drive train. The piece of equipment the motor is actually driving is really using all the energy, and by focusing on this equipment is where the real efficiency benefits can be found.

“Using SEW-Eurodrive motors, a potential saving of up to 2.2% can be realised just by incorporating high efficiency motors into an application.

“In some cases, it is possible to achieve a further 9% by implementing accurate drive configuration and speed control matched to the application, while a 20% saving can sometimes be realised by optimising the mechanical portion of the drive system,” Cerra said.

Both agree that motors and drives in Australia are already operating with a high level of efficiency and even higher levels of efficiency would be detrimental to the industry.

Richardson adds that the MEPS levels have been successful in maintaining a high efficiency standard of motors and drives in Australia but urges manufacturers to thoroughly assess their process system for energy savings.

“Manufacturers need to make sure their processes and the systems they’ve got in place are on-demand-style systems. If people look at their actual utilisation or usage in process control that will ultimately help far more than legislating component efficiencies or higher efficiency motors,” Richardson said.