The “Green Revolution” is under way. Regardless of how you rationalize it, there is a lot of activity around reducing the amount of energy being consumed in almost every aspect of American life. For the most part, its well intentioned. As good stewards of the resources we have, we should use them responsibly.
Energy conservation has been an active part of the mechatronics world for some time. The variable frequency drive, now a $1B+/year product is marketed and sold because of its ability to reduce electrical consumption in about 1/3 of all applications. So we who are part of the drives and controls community have been in the vanguard of energy conservation for many years. An often overlooked fact. We’ve been “Green” for decades.
Some years ago, the Department of Energy spent hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to increase the energy efficiency of the electric motor. They tried to stimulate fundamental R&D with research into high performance lamination steels and superconducting wire. Remember superconducting? Going to change the world. Someday. That day hasn’t come. Motors with superior lamination materials are available but at a cost premium. So we didn’t get a big energy return on our DOE investment. And the incremental increase that high grade laminations provide isn’t enough to justify the expense for the most part. Otherwise, ALL motors would have exotic laminations.
State governments are poised to mandate that manufacturers use some proportion of high efficiency motors to get reductions in power consumption. Instead of building more powerplants or using nuclear mini-reactors to make more power available. Hey, let’s pile on more regulations and costs to our manufacturing sector and see if they survive. Bad idea.
Let’s pass a law that electric motor manufacturers make more efficient motors and let them figure it out. Another Bad Idea. Electric motors are extremely efficient already. Most motors run 80-90% efficient. That’s why electric cars are a great idea. In that situation its not the motors that are the problem, its the battery. But that’s another story.
You can’t just pass a law and get more efficiency. There are physical limits. Politicians generally don’t have technical backgrounds, and by getting involved in the R&D process they can make a real mess.
The American public pays more than $7Bil a year for the DOE to do whatever it does, and from the projects I am aware of, the benefit we get from those expenditures is minimal. We need to get some people from our industry involved in the DOE process who can inject some informed common sense into the situation. The solutions are available, they are just not making it through the bureaucracy.