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First speed-controlled MV motor is ‘new way of creating motion’

13 June, 2024

ABB has announced what it describes as the world’s first speed-controlled medium-voltage motor, claiming that it represents “a new way of converting electricity into motion”. The system – called MV Titanium – combines a 1-5MW MV motor with a frequency converter in one package. It is designed to power loads such as pumps, compressors and fans, reducing the need for equipment such as transformers, switchgear and MV motor cables, and cutting infrastructure costs. It is aimed at both retrofit and new applications, and could cut energy use by up to 40%, paying for itself in less than a year in some applications.

ABB has been developing the new system for about two years. It is currently testing prototypes and hopes to start pilot trials soon, before beginning the first commercial installations in 2026. The motors have a new design topology (aspects of which have been patented), but the accompanying drives are slightly modified and reprogrammed versions of existing frequency converters.

Although variable speed control is now well-established for smaller motors, with more than 20% of LV motors now being speed-controlled, “large motors have so far been left behind, due to initial cost and complexity, with only 10-15% currently connected to a drive,” explains Heikki Vepsäläinen, president of ABB Large Motors and Generators. “But that is set to change with our new MV Titanium concept that makes it cost-effective and straightforward to install a suitable matched motor, with increased control, monitoring, and connectivity in a single package.

“The potential savings in energy costs and CO2 emissions are huge,” he adds. “If we retrofitted the entire installed base, it would be like taking just over 1,000 coal-fired power stations offline.”

At present, there are around one million MV motors in use around the world, accounting for about 10% of global electricity consumption. Every year, about 50,000 new MV motors are installed worldwide, typically with 20-year design lifetimes. Although these motors operate with efficiencies of around 98%, there is still scope to save energy by controlling their speed. The potential savings have risen as energy prices have soared in recent years.

But varying the speed of the MV motors has traditionally been regarded as challenging because of the complexity and costs of designing and installing separate motors and controllers, and the need to construct electrical plant rooms, often needing ventilation or air-conditioning. Most users therefore opt for simpler DOL (direct on-line) fixed-speed installations.

ABB argues that its new concept, which pairs the motor with a variable-speed drive in a single package, will overcome these issues, saving the space and costs of an electrical plant room, and eliminating the need to install heavy-duty cables between the controls and the motor. The purchase price of the new system will be similar to that of a separate motor and drive, but energy and other savings could recoup the cost of the new system within 1-3 years, depending on the application.

ABB’s speed-controlled medium-voltage motor could cut energy use by up to 40%

There will also be substantial savings compared to using non-electronic forms of control. Compared to throttling and valve controls, for example, the savings could be up to 54%; compared to on/off controls, they could be up to 42%; and compared to hydraulic controls, the savings could be up to 17%.

Initially, ABB plans to offer the new technology in ratings from 1-2MW and to target pump and fan/blower applications, in particular (with pumps representing about a third of the MV market). The range could later be expanded from around 500kW to 5MW and be aimed at other applications in sectors including water and wastewater, pulp and paper, metals, cement, power, and minerals and mining. ABB is already talking to pump manufacturers about adopting the technology.

Initially, Vepsäläinen wants to focus on large potential market for retrofits, rather than the smaller market for new installations. ABB estimates that around 80% of MV motor installations between 2024 and 2027 will still be DOL applications.

Although ABB is the first motor manufacturer to be offering this “new way of defining electromechanical powertrains”, Vepsäläinen says he would welcome other suppliers offering similar technologies to help reinforce the concept. He believes that the biggest challenge of establishing this “disruptive technology” will be to make users aware of its potential

“Beyond its technical progress, this next-generation motor concept represents a significant step towards productivity in a low-carbon world,” he concludes. “It puts ABB well on the road to support changing large, fixed-speed motors to fully electrically controlled motors, one by one.”

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