Energy Efficiency Top Weapon In Fight Against Climate Change (ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer)

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By Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of ABB

One might think – after years of focus on global warming – that all the easy measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions had been taken. And yet, as governments attend the 21st annual conference on climate change (COP21), some surprisingly low-hanging fruit remains.

Interview with ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer on Electric Vehicles, Solar Inverters, & Solar Airplanes (Exclusive Videos)
Image from an exclusive CleanTechnica interview with ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer.

I don’t mean small fruit, either. I’m talking about big, high-yield fruit. Consider this: fitting energy efficient electric motors on all pumps and fans with devices to regulate their speed would save 3,338 TWh (3.3 million GWh), roughly equivalent to the amount of electrical energy produced in the EU in 2013*.

The opportunity is so huge because electric motors are among the biggest consumers of energy. They power all manner of equipment and account for about 40% of all electricity consumed worldwide. In the European Union (EU), they are responsible for about 12% of total CO2 emissions, second only to space-heating products**.

In recent years the EU, along with several other countries, such as the United States and China, has imposed new rules requiring older, energy-hungry motors to be phased out. These rules, known as Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS), specify the minimum acceptable efficiency levels of a product, defining which products can be marketed and sold. Typically, these MEPS become more stringent over time. In the EU, for instance, rules requiring a higher efficiency class of motors came into effect in January 2015.

MEPS in Europe and their equivalents in other countries will ultimately lead to the upgrading of the installed base of electric motors. However, at the current pace of implementation, and taking account of loopholes and enforcement issues, they will likely fall short of the energy savings needed to achieve climate goals, especially given that global energy consumption is expected to increase by 30% over the next 15 years.

One reason is that MEPS specify the efficiency of individual products, in this case electric motors, rather than the efficiency of motor systems. No matter how efficient a motor is, if it cannot regulate its speed according to load, it will always be operating at full throttle. Legislation is gradually changing to take account of this – for instance, EU rules that came into force in January 2015 specify that certain (less-efficient) motors must be able to adjust their speed. But only around 10 percent of motors in service worldwide are currently equipped with (variable speed) drives that allow them to do this, even though the energy savings can be substantial – up to 50% in some cases*.

Another challenge is to establish common MEPS globally. Again, progress is being made in this area, with more and more countries moving towards harmonized standards, but much remains to be done. A recent study commissioned by the European Commission*** concluded that, if the most stringent current MEPS for product energy efficiency were harmonized today, global final energy consumption would be 9% lower, and energy consumption due specifically to products would be 21% lower. This would save 8,950 TWh of electricity, equivalent to closing 165 coal-fired power plants, or taking 132 million cars off the road.

The clock is ticking on climate change. The weight of scientific opinion is that we don’t have much more time to turn the tide on emissions, otherwise it will not be possible to limit global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels, which is considered the maximum temperature rise we can sustain without triggering potentially catastrophic climate events.

Of all the actions that can and are being taken to limit carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change, none holds out more promise than improving energy efficiency. There are numerous measures that can be undertaken immediately, without fear of harming economic growth; indeed, since most investments in energy efficient technology are paid back within a year or two through lower energy costs, they can significantly boost competitiveness and through the replacement of old equipment generate additional economic activity. Fruit doesn’t hang much lower than this.

* Calculation is based on ABB’s installed base of variable speed drives, which covers around 20% of the global market and is estimated to be saving some 445 TWh of electricity annually.

** Source: European Commission

*** “Savings and benefits of global regulations for energy efficient products”, European Union, September 2015

Dr Ulrich Spiesshofer is President and Chief Executive Officer of ABB Ltd., a $40 billion company specializing in power and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve performance while lowering environmental impact. The ABB Group of companies operates in around 100 countries and employs about 140,000 people.

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25 thoughts on “Energy Efficiency Top Weapon In Fight Against Climate Change (ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer)

  • Energy Efficiency Is By Far The Best Way To Tackle Climate Change”

    Seriously? Does anyone actually believe this? Ok, ok… does anyone who is not inebriated actually believe this?

    Oopsie. Another ‘article’, this time by a CEO of a 40 billion dollar power and automation company, who is telling us the best way to tackle CC is by upgrading with new power and automation technology.

    The hits – they just keep on coming!

    • Reductions in anything are better than increases, at least as I am concerned.
      But on the other hand nobody needs to go out and buy the latest more efficient gaget just so you can brag about it!

      • The issue I have is not that energy efficiency is useful and necessary, but rather that it is by no means sufficient. It is one of many things that have to be done, and if anyone truly believes that reducing GHG emissions by necessary 60-80% from current level can be done by it, they are smoking something way too strong. Given how low energy usage is in 3rd world, about the best that efficiency improvements can do is to maybe keep energy usage at close to current levels. Reduction in emissions has to largely come from combination of electrification and low-carbon energy.

        Or, as others have suggested, are just pushing products they happen to be developing, or have on sale.

    • I agree. While increased energy efficiency is beneficial it’s by no means enough. There is only so much you can do to increase efficiency and when people the third world wants to have the same standard of living as we do whatever we saved with energy efficiency won’t even make a dent in the climate problem. There are billions of people in this world still waiting for indoor lighting, running water, transportation and all kinds of domestic machines.

      • “Best” infers more than one option.

      • I think the title was worded poorly. ABB is heavily involved in solar, EVs, and wind. It knows their importance. It is highlighting efficiency for reasons made pretty clear in the article. Whoever wrote the title just went overboard, and I’ve changed it.

    • Not quite sure he suggesting that we buy new kit but rather replace irreparable units when they fail. Makes perfect sense.

    • Energy efficiency is clearly the least expensive way to reduce our use of coal, natural gas and petroleum. In general, efficiency is rapidly implemented.

      Some people would say that makes energy efficiency the ‘best’.

    • Do you really think the opinion and knowledge of the CEO of ABB is not worth people’s time?

      I agree the title should have been different, and just changed it, but the point that efficiency is critical, generally the cheapest option, and offers a ridiculous amount of potential is very clear. Any comprehensive and not severely biased report prioritizes it or at least emphasizes its important, whether it’s from IRENA, RMI, Lazard, NREL, IEA, or any other body comprehensively looking at the topic.

    • And I’m not sure why you are putting “article” in quotation marks. How is this not an article? Is the CEO of ABB not qualified to write an article?

      • Zachary

        I think you are doing a very good job with this website. I find a lot of the articles here enriching. But I find a lot of them are also self-serving to their authors. Sometimes the copy is clearly very rah-rah – it even sounds like advertising copy.

        And most of the articles talk about the benefits of corporate or private approaches.We hear pretty regularly about the ’empowerment’ of buying or leasing your own PV panels. The romance and fractal beauty of ‘decentralization’. And here we have the CEO of ABB telling us how much we will all benefit by purchasing his products. This is not an article in the sense of a unit of objective journalism. It is an infomercial.

        So, yes, I do see a pattern of commercialism in many articles. Where are the consumer advocates? Where are the proponents of public ownership of utilities? Where are the social activists? Where do we find a conversation about whether our energy future should be corporatized or whether it should be nationalized?

        I find it ironic that Naomi Klein started a national conversation about capitalism vs the environment and yet here at CleanTechnica there is very little to be found but what she identified as part of the problem – ” neoliberal market fundamentalism”.

        Heck – I think I may be one of the very few people here who think that renewable energy should be subsidized. Which is absolutely incredible – this is a site for and about passionate environmentalism yet almost everyone here is a “neoliberal market fundamentalist”! Do you realize how strange that is?

        And I think you, too might be included in that demographic, Zachary? I have noticed that several of your articles here bring up the cost of renewables subsidies even when it was not particularly relevant.

        Perhaps this is why I use scare quotes about the word “article” and you do not think it appropriate. Maybe I was wrong to do so. But maybe I am right.

        • I am critical of reworded press releases at CT without any additional research that are presented as articles. Because this makes it unclear what is PR and what is journalism.

          However, I don’t see the problem with stakeholders writing an op-ed when their affiliation is clearly stated and anyone with more than three braincells can understand they have a financial interest in the issue.

    • Roger you are using an ad hominem fallacy.

      Of course the author has an (financial) interest in the topic. His affiliation is not hidden, but clearly stated. That does not mean he is automatically wrong. Judge his argumentation on its merit. If you do not believe his numbers, check them. Google (scholar) will help you.

    • We have two Fujitsu heat pumps that are the inverter type so that both the compressor motor and the air handler motor can run at variable speeds. An average A/C unit will have a SEER of 13 to 15. Our units have SEERs of 25 and 27. The newer models are even more efficient. Yes, variable speed motors can save a lot of energy.

  • True.
    What is the additional contribution of intelligent controls mediated typically by IoT chips? The variable-speed thing looks simple enough to apply without them.

  • “By far the best way to tackle climate change” isn’t efficiency, or renewables, or conservation, or any other single measure, no matter how important.

    It’s all of them.

    • Indeed. It was a bad title suggestion that I’m quite positive didn’t come from Ulrich, but might have been approved by him. When I saw it here I knew it wasn’t accurate and didn’t reflect the piece, so changed it.

  • It’s true, in just about any study you see, efficiency is the low-hanging fruit.

    But why on earth would we need such fine-grained regulation to achieve it? I understand consumers are mostly dumb and often buy the cheapest product available. But with the right labeling, “pays for itself in 3 years” “saves $80/year in electricity costs” etc., consumers end up doing the right thing.

    That is, except for those unable to participate in the credit economy (high existing debt, prior bankruptcy etc), with very high effective discount rates. That’s not an easy problem to solve.

  • The BEST way is not to have anymore people on the planet. We are bursting at the seams and the planet cannot take it.

    • Look at the famous Roslund TED talk. We are at “peak child” today. The simple ageing of these constant cohorts gets us to a peak around 10 billion. Any number much below this can only come from a global one-child policy, huge disasters, or genocide. I don’t suppose you are advocating any of these.

      • We can lower the number simply by improving the lives of women in the places with the highest birth rates.

        Move a lot of low skilled manufacturing into those areas. Garment assembly. Electronics assembly. Jobs that women tend to do.

        Giving women a job, an income, changes their role in the family. It gives them more power. They are worth more to the family if they bring in money rather than stay home and raise additional children. Women tend to spend their money to educate their children more than do men.

        Plus, make birth control supplies available in societies that accept them. Lots of people would have fewer children if they had access to birth control.

        China may help this problem a lot. They seem to be grooming some African countries to be their future cheap labor source.

  • A revenue neutral carbon tax is the most effective tool we have to tackle climate change. Energy efficiency and clean energy will be a consequence of such a policy.

    • I agree. A carbon tax creates a generic benefit for efficiency and renewable energy. Each utility, company, customer can pick what works best for them. We’ve got lots of options.

  • I think Bill Gates stated it pretty well when he said that it will take many different green technologies contributing to our energy mix to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Improved motor efficiencies can’t hurt. And whenever it makes economic sense the market forces will drive it.

Comments are closed.