As I see it, for a new technology to be successful, it has to be many things. It must be faster than its predecessor or — at the very least — allow you to install it more quickly. It should also run cleaner from an environmental perspective or be cleaner to produce (i.e., “greener”). In addition, it should be less costly to produce, be offered at a lower price, and run more efficiently than competing technologies. Oh, I almost forgot. It must also have a longer life span than the technology it's replacing. It's challenges like these that keep inventors, research scientists, business development managers, and manufacturing personnel up at night.
We all know lighting and motor loads consume the bulk of the power that is produced across the country. For example, most reports I see indicate that lighting accounts for roughly 25% to 40% of the energy consumed in commercial buildings. In the industrial arena, studies show that motors account for anywhere from 50% to 75% of the energy consumed in manufacturing plants and production facilities. New technology introductions in these areas can have a real and immediate impact on the bottom line.
Compact fluorescent lamp and light-emitting diode (LED) technology has taken the lighting world by storm in the last few years. Both lamp types are competing to replace the workhorse of the lighting world: the incandescent lamp. Some industry observers feel it's only a matter of time before the incandescent lamp becomes obsolete. If you throw other lighting technologies into the mix, such as automated control products and systems, the energy savings for the end-user can be quite substantial.
In the motor world, the push for many years has been on the high-efficiency front. Today's energy-efficient motors are constructed to produce the same power but use less electricity. This is accomplished by using lower-electrical-loss steel in the core, more copper in the windings, reduced friction bearings, and more aerodynamic cooling fans. Couple these high-efficiency motors with speed and frequency control products, and energy consumption levels can be slashed.
All of these developments have been beneficial to manufacturers and end-users. However, one technology I've been anxiously awaiting to reach commercialization is high-temperature superconducting (HTS) power equipment. The widespread use of HTS wires in motors and generators could significantly reduce energy loss and increase power output in these pieces of equipment. However, as you'll see in our cover story this month, starting on page 30, the road to commercialization for these types of products has been painfully slow.
My hope is that as time goes on, more and more electrical engineers will see the tremendous upside of this unique technology and help push its development at a much faster rate than what we've seen to date.