The world has a problem: we have an issue with the way we consume energy and we have an environmental crisis of epic proportions on our hands. The evidence is compelling with an urgency that is undeniable.
As major consumers of energy in all its forms, businesses around the globe have a critical and major role to play in finding new ways to consume less energy, or drawing that energy from more renewable sources so we can meet our collective responsibilities as businesses, as consumers and as members of the global community.
The oft-stated mantra from some business leaders (and consumers for that matter) I sometimes hear is ‘how can one person or one business make a real difference when we have such a such a large scale problem?’
However, addressing global environmental challenges doesn’t have come from grand gestures; success will come from all parts of the global community – individuals, businesses, local authorities and nations – taking large and small steps forward for the greater collective good.
From cost centre to money maker
Traditionally, the challenge for businesses when it comes to investing in green or greener technologies has always been striking the delicate balance between ‘doing right by the environment’ and doing right by the shareholders’, in other words, green technologies have so often in the past been a bottom line cost to a business rather than an investment. Therefore, it would cost companies to ‘do good’ to ‘go green’ if they wanted to play their part in protecting the environment. With a decade of austerity since the financial meltdown, this delicate balance has been even harder to achieve.
However, in the last few years, we have witnessed a tipping point in green technological innovation across the board that has met, head on, the economics of investing in green technologies. The costs of investing in these technologies – from renewable energy generation to electric vehicles, recycling technologies – have fallen dramatically making it not only affordable for business but actually commercially astute for businesses to invest in these technologies and making fundamental argument around ‘going green costing money’ rather redundant.
One significant, but often largely ignored, area the business community can make an important contribution to their environmental responsibilities and a substantial positive effect on their bottom line is electric motors – a hidden, but sizable energy consumer of electricity in just about any business today. Around a phenomenal 40% of the world’s electricity and approximately 70% of the EU’s industrial electricity is consumed by electric motors. Up to half of that energy consumption is wasted due to motors that are incredibly energy inefficient, difficult to monitor and unreliable, leading to large amounts of unnecessary expenditure by business each month.
This presents an enormous challenge to business in terms of its environmental responsibilities, but also a great opportunity to make a significant impact from both and economic and ecological perspective, by changing something as simple as their inefficient electric motors in their HVAC units, for example.
It is for these reasons, that Future Motors Ltd, a UK-based start-up focused on bringing the most innovative and efficient green technologies to market, introduced the IoT-driven SMC Smart Switched Reluctance electric motor to the UK market in 2018.
“Today, the new mantra needs to be “going green saves money and saves energy,” says Simon Potts MD of Future Motors and a retail industry veteran who has spent the last decade initiating and overseeing environmental and sustainability programmes in some of the UK’s largest and most respected retailers, each focused on ‘green tech’ that demonstrated a clear and significant commercial return on investment for the business.
“A business no longer needs to compromise its commercial standing by investing in sustainable or environmentally-friendly technologies. Each of the sustainability programmes I have implemented in over the past 10 years have used intelligent green technologies to save in some cases millions of pounds in energy costs by ensuring the more efficient consumption across the business. All businesses face multiple pressures as they fight to remain profitable in their own highly competitive and challenging market place, so reducing electricity consumption, wastage and cost can play a critical role in helping them to meet the commercial challenges.”
Smart Switched Reluctance Electric Motors – A step ahead of the competition
Using a patented Smart Switched Reluctance Motor (SRM) design, the SMC electric motor, developed by San Francisco-based Software Motor Co, has combined a bespoke, intelligent IoT-driven software controller and driver with a switched reluctance motor to produce a solution that delivers a supremely controllable motor, at a much reduced lifetime cost when compared to alternative AC induction motors.
The motor’s built-in software and connectivity provides constant real-time monitoring of energy use, speed, torque, and temperature, which allows automatic diagnosis of any system issues. This connectivity also means remote controllability, maximising energy efficiency as well as enabling demand-side management to avoid higher energy tariffs and enjoy demand side response revenues.
The SMC smart motor system marries a patented high rotor pole switched reluctance motor with matching motor controller, optional IoT Supervisor, and powerful user-friendly software. Components are designed for compatibility, ensuring the critical components of the motor-driven system work together, in harmony, to deliver high performance and efficiency and ensuring the motor system is inherently more:
- Rugged and corrosion resistant
- Fault tolerant
- Optimally efficient over wide torque and speed ranges
- Highly controllable and configurable
- Communicative – it is the only electric motor that can report in real time how it is performing, providing real-time insights and analysis
Field tests for the SMC Motor in the United States have demonstrated it is the most efficient, reliable and intelligent electric motor on the market today. Comparison trials have shown direct energy efficiency gains against standard motors fitted with VFD (Variable Frequency Drive) AC induction electric motors of 30% as measured and verified by the independent, U.S. Government funded National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
The SMC motor technology was developed by Dr. Piyush Desai and based on a stepper motor. Stepper motors are unique in that their rotor goes through a sequence of minuscule movements while rotating, rather than rotating in one smooth motion – similar to the way the second hand on some clocks ticks through a cycle, while on other clocks the second hand rotates continuously.
While the original Switched Reluctance Motor invented in the 1800s, its use has historically been limited to large-scale industrial applications due to cost and complexity. However, thanks to the flourishing of solar, wind and electric vehicle technologies in the last decade, the cost of the power electronics and micro-controllers required to control an SR motor have dramatically decreased. This has enabled SMC to develop and promote highly cost-effective and intelligent/SMART Switched Reluctance motors for use in a wide range of commercial applications.
A market in mind?
Any innovation that presents so much opportunity for change in so many areas can potentially and paradoxically, lead to inertia and a lack of focus. For this reason, Future Motors has identified the HVAC sector as a primary initial target market for widespread adoption of the SMC motor in the UK – due to its position as both a net contributor to climate change and, as a result, there is an urgent growing need to find new, innovative alternatives to current HVAC operating systems.
“HVAC units and systems are the key ‘hidden culprits’ for businesses in terms of energy consumption, wastage and cost, and our mission is to replace all electric motors with optimised, controllable motor systems based on SRM technology” says Potts. “One of the common misconceptions we consistently come across is the belief that the Induction motors in place in HVAC systems are already efficient, or that the additional efficiency offered by SSRMs won’t have that much of a material effect on cost savings or a reduction in energy consumption.
“However, initial trials in the UK have demonstrated efficiency and costs and energy savings of between 30 and 50 percent, when compared to existing induction motors in HVAC systems, due in part to the performance of the motor and in part to the ability of the software to monitor and control the motor’s performance, ensuring it is always optimised. If you then consider the cumulative effect it would have on a business if were to replace the dozens or in some cases, 100s of induction motors it has across multiple sites, the commercial returns are undeniable. “
The fact that the SMC Smart Motor System enables building owners or managers to make their existing HVAC systems highly efficient just by replacing the existing motors, rather than the whole HVAC unit, is a major advantage in terms of those businesses considering adoption of this technology across their business estate. In addition, the fact that the software that runs the SMC motor can be easily integrated in to a BMS or BEMS system, offers a business real-time analysis and complete control over each motor in each HVAC unit, ensuring it optimises energy management across a building or commercial estate, providing continual, incremental improvements in energy performance and ongoing cost savings.
Another area where SSMR motors outperform traditional induction motors is around the total cost of ownership. Most VSD / VFD motors in HVAC units have on average a much lower life span that a Smart Switched Reluctance motor, as due to the inherent nature of the motor’s mechanics, and their performance and thus, efficiency also wanes or reduces as the motor nears the end of its commissioned life cycle.
A breath of fresh, efficient air for industry
Energy efficiency in the built environment is a key driver in commercial real estate and construction today. Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs) of all kinds are being incorporated into the design and construction to drive down both the cost of energy and the environmental impact of commercial buildings.
However, there remains both a fundamental challenge and an incredible opportunity with existing commercial buildings in terms of upgrading heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to ensure they are more energy and cost efficient and owners are able manage ongoing energy consumption in a much more effective way. The lowering of overall energy use impacts wider environmental challenges by decreasing the need for energy derived from fossil fuels. The wider the adoption is, the less draw on these sources of power – reducing carbon emissions and pollution caused by extraction processes.
The US Department of Energy estimates there are 15 million mid-sized motors in need of urgent replacement in the US alone, and the total in Europe must be of a similar number. But, so many businesses in both markets are simply unaware that their existing electric motors are far from efficient, and even less aware that there is are technologies such as SMC’s Smart Motor Systems that can offer such a robust financial return on investment. In short, the market potential is extraordinarily, if the opportunity is clearly understood.
So, educating those responsible for decision making when it comes to energy and building management – on both the commercial and environmental benefits of today’s ‘green technologies’ – is the key to driving opportunity and the widespread adoption of more efficient, environmentally-friendly technologies like the SMC motor. For example, if a Director of Engineering or an Operations Director has spent most of their career believing an electric induction motor is the most efficient source of energy generation, it takes time, clear and substantial evidence and courage to think differently make the change.
So, in the end, it is about more than ‘just’ demonstrating a great technology – however outstanding it may be. It’s also often about challenging customers to think differently and change the way they view and assess technologies, energy use and energy efficiency. Then, providing them with the tools and the confidence they need to present this solution within the business itself – to be the commercially astute environmental advocate within the business. Environmental advocacy, while it is growing, still has a long way to go to ensure it is a fundamental value and principle in many businesses.
Fortunately, more and more CEOs, Chief Engineers, Operations Directors and their peers are increasingly having environmental KPIs specified as part of their core role. The UK is forging ahead in this regard and it’s on that basis that the SMC Smart Switched Reluctance electric motor is a technology that is ideally suited to take advantage of the market’s increased interest in the genuine commercial benefits of robust, high performance, environmentally-friendly technologies.