Motor-Related Efficiency Requirements Lack Oversight

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — While motors that run heating, ventilation and air conditions are the largest users of energy in buildings, motor-related efficiency requirements are ‘relatively lax,’ according to researchers at the University of California, Riverside.

“Electric motors are by far the largest energy user in any building but get very little attention regarding efficiency and energy use,” said Sadrul Ula, research faculty at the university’s Bourns College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology.

Currently, there is no independent verification of motor efficiency — something Ula is trying to change.

Ula recently received a $385,000 grant from the California Energy Commission to evaluate the efficiency of HVAC motors in building projects by testing onsite and in a soon-to-be built facility at the Center.

“Everyone turns off lights or bathroom fans,” said Ula, who is also managing director of the College’s Winston Chung Global Energy Center. “But, no one turns off motors. The awareness is not there.”

While large-scale clean energy projects like solar and wind have garnered much attention in recent years, the research team reported that energy efficiency efforts that have been pushed to the side can have large impact.

A 2009 report by McKinsey & Company found the U.S. could reduce annual energy consumption by 23 percent by 2020 by deploying energy efficiency measures.

Motors that create that energy tend to operate at 5 to 10 percent below optimal efficiency, Ula said.

A 5 percent reduction in energy use in California’s commercial sector is equivalent to 6 billion kilowatt per hour savings per year, or the annual output of two to three average-sized power plants.

Ula and others at the Center believe the lack of attention to proper sizing and efficiency evaluation of large HVAC motors is a major reason why HVAC systems in commercial buildings in California use 47 percent of power generated compared to the national average of 36.

The research found that maintenance personnel tend to use less efficient oversized motors because of pressure to keep HVAC systems operational.

Many building managers repair damaged motors that result in significantly lower efficiency than the original, or new energy efficient motors, Ula said.

New buildings can end up with oversized motors because only architects and civil engineers are involved in the design stages.

In addition, there is a shortage of engineers with knowledge of electrical power and energy throughout the US.

Ula is working with? two co-principal investigators, Matthew Barth, director of the Center and an electrical engineering professor, and Alfredo Martinez Morales, managing director of the Southern California Research Initiative for Solar Energy.

The team’s objectives are to measure energy use of large HVAC motors onsite under actual operating conditions in office, institutional and commercial buildings.

The researchers plan to start with buildings on campus, then move to off-campus government buildings in the Riverside area and eventually test building in other parts of the state to take into account different weather conditions.

The second phase of research includes setting up a large motor testing facility at the Center, followed by evaluation of commercial and in-house software used by architectural and engineering firms designing HVAC systems.