Thursday, February 16, 2012

HVAC Motors Can Be More Efficient

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — Energy efficiency efforts tend to focus on things such as lighting and insulation. But, in fact, motors that run heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are the largest user of energy in buildings.

At the same time, motor related efficiency requirements are relatively lax. There is no independent verification of motor efficiency, the equivalent of cutting out the Environmental Protection Agency and allowing car makers to say how many miles per gallon their vehicles get.

Sadrul Ula, who is research faculty at the University of California, Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT), is trying to change that. He recently received a $385,000 grant from the California Energy Commission to evaluate the efficiency of HVAC motors in building through testing on-site and in a soon-to-be built facility at CE-CERT.

"Everyone turns off lights or bathroom fans," said Ula, who is also managing director of the Winston Chung Global Energy Center at CE-CERT. "But, no one turns off motors. The awareness is not there."

In recent years, large-scale clean energy projects, such as solar and wind farms, have generated many headlines, pushing energy efficiency efforts to the side. But those relatively simple energy efficiency steps can have a large impact. A 2009 report by McKinsey & Company found the United States could reduce annual energy consumption by 23 percent by 2020 by deploying energy efficiency measures.

In California, nearly 47 percent of electrical energy consumption was used by commercial buildings. Motors that create that energy tend to operate at 5 to 10 percent below optimal efficiency, Ula said. Increasing that efficiency can have enormous implications.

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