A radical overhaul of the regulation governing electric motors is forecast to bring big cost savings for industry, along with a significant reduction in environmental impact


Europe is estimated to have more than eight billion electric motors in use, consuming almost 50% of the electricity generated across the continent. Until recently, some of these motors, including those designed for hazardous areas, were exempt from energy-efficiency regulations – but these regulations are about to change.

The new measures, approved by the European Commission (EC) and coming into force from July 2021, will embrace a wider scope of motors and, for the first time anywhere globally, variable speed drives (VSDs) are included, forcing them to achieve a higher efficiency standard. And that, says the EC, will bring huge cost savings for industry, along with a substantial reduction in environmental impact. “A more efficient motor can generate savings totalling thousands of euros over its lifetime, depending on its power and use pattern,” it states.

More efficient motors under the current regulation are expected to deliver 57TWh of annual energy savings across the EU this year. Taking into account the overall effect of the revised regulation when it comes into force, these savings are forecast to almost double by 2030, with an annual saving of 110TWh – equivalent to the electricity consumption of the Netherlands. “This means that 40 million tonnes of CO2 emissions will be avoided each year,” adds the EC, “and that the annual energy bill of EU households and industry will be reduced by approximately €20 billion by 2030.”

The electric motor’s journey has been a long and interesting one, as Marek Lukaszczyk, European and Middle East marketing manager at WEG, a global manufacturer of motors and drives, explains.

“Minimum Energy Performance Standard (MEPS) was introduced in 2009 by EU Commission Regulation EC 640/2009. The regulation required motors of 0.75-375 kW to reach international standards set by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) for single-speed three-phase motors," Marek Lukaszczyk, European and Middle East marketing manager at WEG.

IE1 describes ’standard efficiency’, IE2 is ‘high efficiency’ and IE3 is used for motors with ‘premium’ levels of efficiency (more information can be found here). Updates to the legislation in 2016 specified that electric motors require an energy-efficiency class of at least IE3, or IE2 class, if the motor is used with a VSD. “The regulation, bolstered by improved design and materials for electric motors, brought about huge improvements to the energy consumption related to motor use,” he points out.

Over time, the electric motor market reflected the shift in regulation and transitioned to more efficient motors. “IE1 and below, which represented 80% of European market share in 2009, held on to just 17% of market share by 2016,” he adds. “During the same period, IE3 premium class motors rose from 0% to 29% of market share. Good news for the planet and cost savings for the end user.”

That momentum has since gathered pace, with the design of electric motors continuing to advance on a broad front to maximise on energy-saving opportunities. From 2021, that is likely to accelerate further. “Previously, the scope of the regulations only covered three-phase motors ranging from 0.75 kW to 375 kW, leaving motors outside this power range excluded,” adds Lukaszczyk. “From 2021, this will no longer be the case. The impending regulation requires all new two-, four-, six- and eight-pole motors in the power range of 0.75-1,000kW to meet IE3 efficiency class. The previous legislation allowed for an IE2 motor to be used, provided it was controlled by a VSD, but this will no longer be valid. Sizes from 0.12-0.75 kW will need to meet IE2 class.”

And the new regulations bite even deeper. Special-purpose motors, such as explosion-proof or flame-proof motors, were exempt from the previous (existing) regulation, out of concern for the higher-risk environments they were used in. “From July 2021, new ATEX motors entering the supply chain must be rated IE3 or higher, with increased safety motors classified as ‘Ex eb’ being the exception,” he comments. “These motors will need to be at least IE2 efficiency level by 2023.”

Energy-efficient motors for hazardous environments have been available from WEG for decades. However, with no obligation to implement high levels of energy efficiency in hazardous environments, some businesses opted for low-efficiency motors, possibly due to the cheaper upfront costs. The new regulation will alter that landscape significantly, he believes, with all of the attendant benefits. “In energy-intensive industries, such as chemical, pharmaceutical or oil and gas, thousands of motors often operate 24 hours a day,” states Lukaszczyk. “Even a slight improvement in efficiency, extrapolated over the sheer volume of motors and hours of operation, will benefit the businesses’ bottom line.”

Energy costs for electric motors account for 95-97% of total lifecycle costs, depending on the application. Investment in energy-efficiency drives and motors, even if it’s not through choice, usually provides a very fast return on investment. Lukaszczyk gives one example: “Take the IE3 W22Xd series of explosion-proof motors from WEG. The lower operating costs of these induction motors can reduce costs by 20-40%, compared with conventional approaches.”

And, what will the UK’s position be post-Brexit? “The UK will be following the European legislation for energy efficiency and guidelines, as well as standards, for the time being – and, as we see it, for the foreseeable future,” confirms Lukaszczyk. “It does not make commercial or economic sense to try to adopt our own standards when Europe will still be a big customer for the UK, going forward. Also, the EU standards are accepted across the globe, with many countries looking at these and adopting them for their own standards. Discussions are ongoing, but that is the overall feeling right now where the UK authorities are concerned.”

Hannu Vaananen, head of public affairs for business line motors and generators at ABB, says the company is already providing its customers with compliant motors.

“This also applies to our variable speed drives – including the ACS880, ACH580, ACQ580, ACS580, ACS480 and ACS380 product lines – as well as motor types that were previously exempt, such as Ex motors, Totally Enclosed Air Over (TEAO) motors and motors for 60 Hz networks," Hannu Vaananen, head of public affairs for business line motors and generators at ABB

With the objective behind the new regulation being to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, to limit the average global temperature increase to 1.5°C, he argues that one of the most affordable and effective ways to increase energy efficiency is to use VSDs in combination with high-efficiency motors. “Our drives can reduce energy consumption by 30% to 50% by regulating the speed of, for example, the motor of a pump or fan. In extreme cases, consumption can drop by 90%.”

When it comes to new regulations, it’s essential to be ahead of the game, as it ensures that customers have future-proof products, adds Vaananen. “This is especially important as, on average, projects can take three years to move from the planning phase to the active phase. Saving energy is a highly effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money at the same time. That’s why we work with policymakers all the time to expand regulations that cover additional motors and drive systems. Our commitment is not only to our clients, but also to a greener world.”

Box: New regulation - at a glance
The new energy-efficiency regulations for electric motors will be implemented in two steps, with the first starting on 1 July 2021. The second stage, which expands the scope further and increases the requirements for motors, commences two years later on 1 July 2023. Super-premium-efficiency motors (IE4) will become mandatory for three-phase motors with two, four or six poles between 75-200 kW.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), electric motors account for some 40% of total global electricity consumption, while, for industrial motors, the figure is around 30% (www.is.gd/ecixaj). Lighting, a far better-known culprit, weighs in at just 19%. “Using electric motors that offer the highest levels of energy efficiency can therefore play a crucial role in containing worldwide energy consumption and in reducing CO2 emissions,” states the IEA.

By Brian Wall