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Unplugged: Happy Motoring!

If you say the word “motor” to most people, they would probably think first of the motor in their car. Many people understandably take a great interest in the gasoline or diesel engine that gets them around. But while amateur mechanics across the country may spend their weekends fussing over these motors, I’ve yet to see grease-covered enthusiasts gathered in a garage discussing the horsepower of their washing machines.

Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric motors consume more than half of all electricity used in the U.S. each year. These motors are embedded in seemingly everything, from the tiny cooling fans in laptop computers, to the larger motors that drive household refrigerators and air-conditioners, and the much larger motors running conveyor belts in factories.

Improving the energy efficiency of these motors can have huge benefits by reducing the demand for electricity and the air pollution from power plants.

Yesterday, Earthjustice, as part of a coalition of energy efficiency advocates and motor manufacturers, submitted a joint petition to DOE, recommending stronger new efficiency standards for the types of electric motors used in commercial and industrial applications like pumps, conveyors, and farm equipment. The petition was the product of two years of negotiations between the parties. One objective that we all shared was preventing the circumvention of efficiency standards.

Electric motors are subject to a patchwork of efficiency standards that vary according to motors’ components and intended use. That has encouraged some companies to game the system by seeking ways around the most stringent standards. And the difficulty of determining which, if any, standards are supposed to apply to a particular motor only complicates enforcement efforts.

Our joint petition attacks these problems by recommending that nearly all motors move up to the higher efficiency levels now required only for certain specific designs. According to DOE’s own analysis, these new standards would save about 4.4 quadrillion British thermal units of energy by 2044—more energy than the entire state of Florida uses in a year. The standards we recommend will also save motor purchasers more than $18 billion over that span.

These more efficient electric motors may never inspire a Beach Boys song, but at least it will take less juice to rev them up. And that means more coal stays in the ground and less pollution goes into the air.

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