Imagine a technology that can cut household appliance energy consumption by 40 percent. At the same time, it would enable washing machines and refrigerators to last longer and make less noise.
The technology, known as the variable-speed motor, has been popular in Europe for more than a decade. It is gradually gaining acceptance in the U.S. as appliance-makers seek to make household goods more efficient.
Semiconductors such as those made by TI are essential to these so-called intelligent motors. Semiconductors lie at the heart of electronic motor controls, providing real-time monitoring and automatic adjustments.
"It's one thing for a company to take responsibility for maintaining office recycling programs, improving environmental stewardship within its supply chain and encouraging alternative transportation," said Brian Crutcher, manager of TI's Advanced Embedded Control Group. "However, it's a real step toward sustainability when a company embeds social and environmental values into every aspect of operations, including product design and manufacturing. We're enabling our customers to design new systems that are as energy-efficient as they can be. It gives our customers a point of differentiation in the market and consumers more choices for low-cost, high-efficiency products."
The little-known variable-speed motor has a tremendous potential impact on energy use. The typical home has about 50 motors; automated factories rely almost entirely on motors as well.
Traditional motors have two speeds: 100 percent on or 100 percent off. When a washing machine turns on, the motor operates at 100 percent of speed. When the wash cycle is done, the motor turns off.
But what if the washing machine doesn't need to operate at full speed to get clothes clean? That's where variable-speed motors come in.
They rely on an algorithm familiar to high-school algebra students: a fan or pump's power consumption is the cube root of shaft speed. That means that if the speed and flow of a motor drop 10 percent, power use drops 27 percent. If speed drops 20 percent, power use declines 49 percent. Variable-speed motor controls can sense how much motor use is needed for a particular use and adjust the motor's speed accordingly.
One appliance manufacturer's completely redesigned front-loading washing machine consumed 38 percent less electricity and 17 percent less water than a conventional machine, thanks to variable-speed motors. The motor power adjusted itself based on the amount and type of laundry.
"Two-thirds of industrial electricity is used to run electric motors, but only 5 percent of these motors use variable speed, so the opportunity for TI is tremendous," Crutcher added.
Helping manufacturers with more efficient motors is just one way TI's semiconductors support appropriate energy use. In some cases, our processors and analog products reduce the energy drained by televisions, computers and DVD recorders while in standby mode to just 500 nanoamps. That's less than 1/500th the amount of energy used to power a light bulb.
TI has also enabled portable consumer and industrial products to run for years on the same battery. We support HDTVs and other home electronics that achieve up to 90 percent energy efficiency. And our products allow electrical utility meters to reduce wasted energy by up to 30 percent by adding intelligence in usage measurement and replacing the mechanics with semiconductors.
"While the term ‘green' may be new, we've been helping customers drive down power usage in portable applications and increase energy efficiency for the past dozen years or so," Crutcher said. "Our broad portfolio of processors and analog solutions positions us well for the future as demand and awareness for these products continue to grow."