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The Continuing Professional Development programme

MODULE 004 • MAY 2003


In the fourth of EiBI and the Institute of Energy’s CPD training modules, Debbie
Hobbs of Faber Maunsell and Chris Monson of Trend Control Systems examine
the basics in VSDs.


GOAL: To introduce building operators/energy managers to the concepts and

opportunities in using variable speed drives in buildings & industry related to

OBJECTIVES: After studying this module readers should be able to:

• understand the concept of the VSD;
• understand the areas of VSD application in HVAC circuit;
• identify opportunities in their building/industry;
• check for approximate savings potential by installing a VSD;
• talk to suppliers with more details, which can benefit both;
• check additional benefits that can be achieved by VSDs other than
energy savings (process control);
• consider other areas where VSDs can be used.

Variable speed drives (VSDs) have now become a common sight in

buildings and industry. There are many reasons to explain this growth, but the
main ones are cost savings and improved process control.
VSDs are not new. They have been in use in critical process industries
for several years and have very recently grown to a level that they can find
use in smaller industry and buildings. Subsequently, the technology has also
developed considerably, with features that look at factors that might affect the
installation, e.g. size, harmonics.
VSDs are electronic gadgets which can be attached to an induction
motor with a control mechanism (like temperature, pressure, etc). They can
be incorporated into any motor with a variable load, but the most common
applications are pumps and fans. Other applications include air compressors,
agitators, etc. VSDs, also called Variable Frequency Drives, can sense the
temperature/pressure of a system and reduce/increase frequency (V/f)
thereby reducing the rpm of the motor, which in turn reduces the flow. The
response is fast, another reason why it is preferred by industry.
During the construction phase of an industry/building, the primary focus
would be on completing the project successfully. As a result, design engineers
build in some extra capacity in order to have some flexibility during initial
operation and to cater for future expansion. This normally leads to excess
capacities in equipment like pumps and fans. Apart from these some process
operations could be highly variable. Design engineers have to consider
equipment for the maximum use (or) the worst situation. This leads to an
excess capacity situation when the demands are less. VSDs try to minimise
the energy consumption in both these conditions by reducing the flow. VSDs
are often chosen for better process control, e.g. temperature and relative
humidity control in a building, chemical reactor operation, etc. VSDs are also
being considered during design stage resulting in equipment being specified
very close to the actual requirement.
VSDs have been widely used in pumps and fans. Ten million motors
are installed in the UK, responsible for 64 per cent of the nation’s electricity
use. Fifty per cent of these are installed on pumps and fans.
The following paragraphs speak about the basic principles of induction
motor, VSD and then focus on the HVAC application to pumps and fans with a
case example.

The most commonly used motor is the threephase, asynchronous AC
motor, also called an induction motor, which is both inexpensive and very
The two main components of an asynchronous motor are the stator
(stationary element) and the rotor (rotating element). The speed at which a
motor turns is dependant on the speed the magnetic field generated in the
stator rotates, which in turn is dependant upon the a.c supply frequency and
the number of phase windings (poles) in the stator housing. Rotation
[revs/min] is at: (f x 60)/p where f = a.c. frequency and p = no. of pole pairs.
The principles that drive the motor mean that the speed of the rotor
does not reach that of the rotating field. The slip is the difference between the
speed of the rotating field and the speed of the rotor and is often expressed
as a percentage of the synchronous speed. It is normally between 4 and 11
percent of rated speed. For example, the mains supply in most European
countries is 400V 50Hz. This gives a four-poled asynchronous AC motor an
approximate speed of 1440rpm applying a slip factor of 4 per cent.
Centrifugal fans and pumps, as frequently found in HVAC systems are
variable torque loads. With a variable torque load, the torque required to drive
the load increases in proportion to the square of speed as shown in Figure 1.









0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%

Figure 1: Torque & Power characteristic of variable

torque loads

Figure 1. Torque & Power characteristics of variable loads

The basic equations governing this application are summarized as:

• Flow A Motor speed
• Torque A (Motor speed) _
• Fan Power A (Motor speed) _

The load increases from zero torque at zero speed through 25 per cent
torque at 50 per cent speed to 100 per cent torque at 100 per cent speed.
Since power is proportional to torque multiplied by speed, power is
proportional to the cube of speed. At 50 per cent speed, the load requires only
12.5 per cent of maximum power. The power/speed relationship is sometimes
known as the ‘power cubed’ law or as the ‘square torque’ law. Hence
controlling flow by motor speed reduction means that a relatively small speed
change produces a large fall in absorbed power.
Obviously, there will be no energy saving if the power of the motor
matches exactly that of the load. In constant flow applications one of the most
cost-effective options for improving the operating efficiencies of oversized
motors is to replace them with adequately sized motors, which essentially
deliver a higher efficiency than the former.
However, careful consideration has to be given before arriving at any
conclusion regarding the loading of the motor. Replacing motors based on
incorrect assessment of the motor loading may lead to a motor burn out if the
assessed loading is greater then the rated capacity of the replaced motor. In
applications where there is variation in flow; speed control is the preferred
technique to other means of regulating flow because it provides the most
efficient method of flow management and presents significant energy saving
A machine will always operate where its pressure/flow characteristics
match those of the system. As an example, consider a fan with the
characteristics shown in Figure 2. It is operating in a system with the flow-
dependent frictional loss characteristic shown. The operating point will be at
A. The airflow can be regulated by adjusting the position of fan inlet vanes,
adjusting the position of discharge dampers, or by adjusting the speed of the
fan. Use of dampers increases the system frictional characteristics, giving a
new operating point B. Although the flow falls as desired a pressure drop must
be effected across the output damper to meet the system requirement and the
power reduction is very small (A similar effect is obtained when a throttle is
fitted to a pump system). An alternative approach is to vary the fan
characteristics by reducing the speed. The new fan characteristics for a
reduced speed give a new operating point C. Since the power used by the fan
is proportional to the flow pressure, while the flow is the same as for B, the
power is much less.

resistance as
damper closes

fan speed
Pressure ! System


Pressure ! A
C Characteristics

Volume flow
Figure 2: Typical fan characteristic

Fig. 2 Typical fan characteristic

For Fan



70% Outlet Damper



Inlet Damper


Variable Speed

0% 20% 40% 60% 80%

Figure 3: Power v's Flow for different methods of control

For Pumps


80 Valve
Power %





20 40 60 80 100
Capacity in %

Figure 3. Power v’s Flow for different methods of control

Figure 3 illustrates how typically power varies as a function of flow for
each of the regulating methods. The important thing to be noted here is that
fans are mostly controlled on the suction side and pump always on the
delivery side. If a fan is damper controlled on the delivery instead of the
suction then the power consumption would go up. It is mainly due to the
increase in average density, hence higher power consumption.
Any method of speed reduction will give the same effect. However, a
variable speed drive permits operation anywhere on the flow curve and is
generally the preferred choice for the flexibility it affords.
Consequently HVAC system designs are increasingly incorporating
variable speed drives to provide control of a.c. motors on fan and pumps to
regulate flows of air and water. Clearly, where flow rates can be regulated
motor energy can be significantly reduced as the relationship between flow
rate and motor power follows a cube-law i.e. reducing the flow rate by 20 per
cent reduces power consumed by 50 per cent.
However, in-use energy savings are only part of the attraction to
deploying variable speed drives. In addition, the variable volume water
systems associated with these are inherently more efficient avoiding the
wasteful pumping and heating or cooling of water. Furthermore, the reduced
wear and tear and mechanical shock due to controlled acceleration &
deceleration and through basically operating at lower speeds and loads will
extend not only the service intervals and life of the motor but also the
machinery that is driven by the motor.
Not only are significant operational savings possible, the use of
variable speed drives affords specification and installation benefits:
• variable speed drives replace a number of switch gear components that are
normally fitted and wired within a motor control centre such as contactors and
overloads. With increasing skilled labour costs the use of variable speed
drives becomes an increasingly simple-to-fit, cost-effective alternative.
• in larger applications considerable material and installation savings can be
made by having to install only three conductors, instead of six required in
Star-Delta starting applications. As starting current is always kept within the
nominal value, the size and cost of cabling and fuses is also minimised.
• designers are increasingly specifying variable speed drives as they remove
a significant sizing risk out of the design process, simplifying their roles; and
moving the sizing to an empirical activity at commissioning time.


Electronic variable speed drives essentially convert the fixed frequency

and voltage from the mains to controllable variable frequency and voltage (V/f
Ratio). Also known as variable frequency drives or inverters they work by first
converting the a.c. mains supply to d.c. using a rectifier. After smoothing by
capacitors, the d.c., supply is chopped by six microprocessor-controlled,
highfrequency transistors in such a way as to synthesise a variable frequency,
variable voltage a.c. source of power for the motor. Most drives are controlled
by a technique called pulse width modulation (PWM), in which the motor
voltage is made variable by applying the intermediate d.c. voltage to the motor
windings for longer or shorter periods of time. The control circuit determines
the on and off switching times and sequence of transistors.

A typical Air Handling Unit (AHU) consists of a supply fan, heating

coils, cooling coils, filters, RH controller and a return fan.
The controls maintain the set temperatures and RH in the room by
various control valves and dampers, which close / open depending on the
ambient conditions.
Due to the variable nature of the climate outside, the heating and
cooling systems are designed for their maximum use and worst conditions.
This makes the system more variable in nature and justifies well for VSD. The
savings obtained are considerable due to the high degree of climate change.
A typical AHU is explained as figure 4.

Figure 4 – Typical AHU System

In the above system, a VSD can be incorporated into the following:

Supply and return fans: The flow of air to the room can be varied in
order to maintain a constant temperature. Apart from this all fixed
dampers can be kept open and flow can be controlled by a VSD.
Chilled/hot water pumps: keeping the airflow constant, the flow of
chilled water / hot water can be varied. The savings depend on the
number of AHUs, their location, etc.
In most of the cases a combination of both would give additional savings
and good process control.

In one process industry a supply fan was providing air to a process

room. They had three issues: during frequent product changes, they have to
decrease the air changes by 40 per cent, overcome duct damage due to high
pressure before the damper, and energy savings. The plant teams were
interested in installing a VSD for this fan, but wondered how to calculate the
savings potential and the payback.
The pressure measurements were taken at different points across the
ducts for both the products. Simultaneously, the power measurement was
also taken for the motor. The pressure drop across the dampers was found to
be 68 per cent. This indicates that only 32 per cent of the fan’s capacity was
being used and the rest was getting dropped across the damper.

Pressure drop across damper (prod B) = (((4.33”)-(1”))/((4.33)-(-0.57”))) x 100

= 67.90 per cent
Pressure drop across damper (prod A) = 77.30 per cent (was 6.3” on the
delivery side)
A VSD was installed for this fan with a pressure sensing control
mechanism and the plant saved 60 per cent (average) of the existing power
consumption. Additional advantages were instant change over during product
change and savings on the duct maintenance.
Annual savings = £5,750, Investment = £7,500, Payback = 16 months
(taking 4.2 P/kWh)


A pump with an operating point A was being operated by valve control

– this would move it to Point B (very small drop in power consumption. If the
same is operated with a VSD, then the point moves to Point C (with a
considerable reduction in power – 40 per cent).


A number of considerations should be made when considering variable

speed drive applications.
• since there is rarely any need for rapid acceleration or deceleration variable
torque loads such as fans and pumps do not require any momentary overload
or breaking capability; and in normal running there is little chance of
experiencing high overloads from shock loading or high breakaway torques.
Hence, variable speed drives specified for HVAC applications should be
capable of providing 150 per cent starting torque for two seconds with 60
seconds overload capacity at 110 per cent full load torque.
• with most fans, one third to one half of full speed is the minimum speed that
produces any significant flow. Since the torque requirement drops off as
speed is reduced, the motor is not in danger of overheating due to the
reduced flow of cooling air at low operating speeds. Drive speed range
capability is generally not an issue in variable torque applications.
• often in fan applications, the draft inside a duct will cause the fan to rotate
even after it has been powered down. If a variable speed drive is started into
a “wind-milling” rotating motor, it generates a high surge current. This can
cause the drive to trip out on over-current. A useful feature available in some
drives is the ability to catch a flying motor. The drive, when first enabled to
run, will initially ascertain the running speed of the motor due to the draft. If
the motor direction of rotation is opposite to the speed command, the drive will
then bring the motor to rest first before accelerating it in the correct direction.
If the direction of rotation is the same as that of the speed demand, the drive
will very likely accelerate the motor from its running speed.
• other factors (including harmonics, etc) that might affect the existing
electronic equipment in the building or industry.

Energy = (Flow x Pump head) / (Pump efficiency x motor efficiency

A= 4 x 54.6/0.8 = 273W
B= 3.2 62.7/(0.8 x 0.8) = 154W
C= 3.2 x 34.7/(0.8 x 0.8) = 154W
Energy saved = ((B-C)/B) = ((257-154)/257) =40 per cent

MODULE 4 Test Questions

Please mark your answers on the sheet below by placing a cross in the box
next to the correct answer. Only mark one box for each question. You may
find it helpful to mark the answers in pencil first before filling in the final
answers in ink. Once you have completed the answer sheet in ink, return it to
the address below. Photocopies are acceptable.
1. At what speed will a 6 pole motor rotate when connected to a 50hz a.c.
50 r.p.m.
470 r.p.m.
940 r.p.m.
2,250 r.p.m.

2. Which types of load offer the greatest scope for realising energy
savings by reducing output to match demand?
Variable torque loads such as centrifugal pumps and fans
Constant torque loads such as conveyors and hoists
Constant power loads such as grindstones and saws
Fixed speed loads such as calenders and rolls

3. What is the relationship between absorbed power and the speed of a

centrifugal pump?
Power alpha(Motor speed) _
(Motor speed) _ alpha Power
Motor speed alpha(Power) _
Power alphaMotor speed

4. Approximately how much energy can be saved by reducing the speed

of a centrifugal pump by 20 per cent?
20 per cent
64 per cent.
80 per cent
50 per cent

5. At 75 per cent speed approximately what volume .ow is delivered by a

centrifugal pump?
75 per cent
55 per cent
42 per cent
90 per cent

6. What would the simple payback period be for a 20 per cent oversized
22kW fan that runs nine hours per day seven days a week; assuming the
installation of a variable speed drive to be £4,000 and electricity costs
2 years
2.5 years
1.5 years
3 years.

7. Which component of a variable speed drive converts the a.c. mains

supply to d.c.?

8. Which of the applications listed below will not generally be suitable for
variable speed drive control?
systems with large variable flows
systems incorporating diversion or bypassing arrangements.
system operating at close to full flow for the majority of its use.
systems with long distribution networks

9. Which of the factors listed is not a benefit when deploying variable

speed drives in retrofit applications to regulate flow rates?
reduced wear and tear on mechanical components
reduced installation costs
reduced power consumption
reduced heating or cooling of distribution systems

10. Which of the techniques listed is able to infinitely vary flow rates on
motor driven fans and pumps?
multiple speed motors
variable speed drives
changing pulley or gearbox ratios
use of a different motor

11. Pulse width modulation is a technique that varies the output

frequency of the variable speed drive by
applying the intermediate d.c. voltage to the motor windings for longer or
shorter periods of time
varying the intermediate voltage frequency
varying the a.c. input voltage to the drive
using a voltage-controlled oscillator where the frequency follows the
amplitude of the intermediate voltage.

Name.......................................................................................... (Mr., Mrs., Ms)

Business Address .............................................................................................
Post Code ..........................................................................................
Email address...................................................................
Tel No.................................................................................................................

Completed answers should be sent to:

Education and Training Officer
Energy Institute
61 New Cavendish Street
Tel: 020 7467 7178
Fax: 020 7255 1472