Electric motors make things go
Electric motors make things go. Better motors mean better go power. What constitutes “better” and what to do about it, is the subject of a great deal of investigation. Better motors generally mean 2 things, higher efficiency and greater torque produced for a given amount of input power.
The Department of Energy has spent incredible sums of money on the problem in several different forms. The DoE segmented very high volume applications of electric motors to see if any of the applications could be improved by a few percentage points. For example, the US builds and buys washing machines at the rate of a few million a year. So small changes in the performance of washing machine motors has the potential to impact electrical consumption in the US.
Similar applications exist in air conditioning compressor motors and air handling motors. These applications occur by the millions of production units every year in many parts of the world. US and other governments spend lots of research dollars looking for improvements, but very few make it into the real world.
This fact should give us pause for reflection.
New technology cannot gain widespread acceptance unless a significant benefit can be realized. Environmental impact may be a factor for some consumers, but generally environmental impact attributes are product preferences that require paying a cost premium. Products that embody preferential features are generally more expensive and are suited to a limited consumer audience.
Products which are critical in widespread systems, like gasoline in the transportation system, are extremely sensitive to pricing and preferential features are not easy to support. Decreasing sulfur in fuels as a way to decrease emissions in combustion costs somewhere around 15 cents a gallon. So a legislative decision about emissions results in a cost impact that is tolerable for some and a burden for others.
Tangible benefits are most often those embodied in reduced operating cost. Widespread adoption of new technology requires a significant cost reduction, either in the direct price or the operating expense. And it has to be significant enough to be compelling.
There is a well known electrically commutated motor for moving air in central air conditioners. The motor is very efficient by virtue of the fact that there is a small inverter in the end bell of the motor. It is an otherwise simple ac motor. It has taken 20 years for industry to come up with a better solution.
Why is change in technology so slow? Because it takes lots of people, lots of time and lots of money to come up with better solutions.