High-efficiency motors: what does the European directive change about motor starter’s choice?

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The directive encourages users to select the most energy-efficient overall system (motor + motor starter). Depending on the application, the most efficient system might be obtained with a Variable Speed Drive, but not always…

Motors’ efficiency classes

International standard IEC 60034, which dates back to 2008, set forth four energy-efficiency classes for motors:

  • IE1: standard efficiency
  • IE2: high efficiency
  • IE3: premium efficiency
  • IE4: super premium efficiency (not yet enforced)

These classes replaced an older set of classes, which were numbered in reverse order from EFF3 to EFF1.

Targeting electric motors and electrical consumption

At the EU level, Directive 2005/32/EC established a framework for eco-design, setting forth the requirements for energy-using products. Through a series of recommendations, manufacturers are encouraged to reduce their products’ energy consumption and improve their efficiency.

Given that, in the industrial sector, electric motors account for 80% of electrical energy consumption, and electricity accounts for 40% of all energy used, Regulation EC640/2009 implements the directive for electric motors.

When will the Directive be implemented?

The Directive will be implemented according to the following calendar:
• 2011: All motors must be IE2
• 2015: Motors between 7.5 kW and 375 kW must be at least IE3, or IE2 if a variable speed drive is used
• 2017: The Directive will apply to motors between 0.75 kW and 375 kW

Our recommendations

First, be careful not to misinterpret the Directive. Just because an IE2 motor is used with a variable speed drive does not make it as efficient as an IE3 motor with a traditional motor starter. It is the energy efficiency of the overall system that should dictate your choice between starter and variable speed drive: using a drive when a contactor would be sufficient may result in a very poor overall efficiency.

Our recommendation to select your solution:

– If the application does not require varying the speed, we recommend implementing a traditional low-energy consumption motor starter (contactor, Star Delta starter, or Softstarter) associated to an IE3 motor. Motor starters have less power losses than drives, are simple to install and use, have no Electro-Magnetic Compatibility issues and are highly reliable devices. The motor self-adjusts to the variation of the load demand by varying its torque.
– If however the application really requires varying the speed independently from the torque, a Variable Speed Drive associated to an IE2 or IE3 motor will ensure the best overall efficiency, especially compared to conventional mechanical speed limiters (dampers, valves…).
– Finally a clever association of a Variable Speed Drive and contactors (cascaded or in parallel) should be considered in case of load changes, to ensure an efficient, adaptable but not too expensive solution.

Example of cascading pumps, which skilfully combine starters and a variable speed drive to offer a flexible but not too expensive solution.
Example of cascading pumps, which skilfully combine starters and a variable speed drive to offer a flexible but not too expensive solution.

If you would like to learn more, I advise you to visit the electrical installation wiki page about Motor Energy Saving Opportunities 

and also to download the brochures published by CAPIEL (European Coordinating Committee of Manufacturers of Electrical Switchgear and Controlgear)

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  • Jacques Schonek

    10 years ago

    Note that in Pumps and Fans applications, the need is not to change the speed of the motor, but to adapt the flow or pressure of the fluid, water or air for example. Then, variable speed of the motor gives huge benefits in terms of Energy Efficiency.
    See Cahier Technique 214: “Energy efficiency: benefits of variable speed control in pumps, fans and compressors”

  • Abdul Whab

    10 years ago

    sir drives have more loses than the other starters but on the other side they are improving the power factor upto 97% which other starters can’t do.

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