Supercharging Industries: The Evolution of Induction Motors & The Future of Green Energy

Based on a publication of Prof. Marcelo Godoy Simões

Before we embark on this journey, let’s first understand what an induction motor is. In simple terms, an induction motor is an electric motor that operates on the principle of electromagnetic induction. It has two main parts: a stationary part, the stator, and a rotating part, the rotor. When an electric current passes through the stator, it generates a rotating magnetic field that induces an electromotive force in the rotor, causing it to turn. This mechanism is the heart of many industrial machines, from fans and pumps to conveyor systems.

Decades ago, these induction motors used to be rigid, running at constant speed and consuming unnecessary power. They were like a horse with blinders, oblivious to the potential of flexibility and efficiency. Then, the age of Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) dawned, granting us the ability to control the speed and torque of these motors, and thereby ushering in a new era of energy efficiency and versatility.

The 1980s and 1990s saw exponential advancements. Remember Texas Instruments’ DSP boards? They were like a magic wand for engineers, enabling real-time calculations and fostering the development of novel control techniques. Fast forward to 1995, a landmark year when the digital age truly began to infiltrate power electronics. DSPs, microcontrollers, and rapid digital hardware implementation became the backbone of our burgeoning technological era.

The technological explosion has also translated into more practical applications, such as energy-saving variable-speed induction motors for a multitude of industrial applications. Whether it’s the movement of fluids, air, lifting water, or driving conveyor systems, variable-speed control has made a vast difference in energy consumption and cost efficiency. But, we have not stopped there.

The end of the 1990s brought advancements like sensorless motor drives. These state-of-the-art mechanisms can estimate the speed or torque of a machine without requiring direct measurements, making the entire system more efficient and intelligent. However, this intelligence requires advanced, real-time control implementation, setting the stage for a new challenge.

Now, let’s look towards our future – a future that is green, sustainable, and smart. Our society is now acutely aware of the imperatives of reducing fossil fuel usage, and curbing pollution. The onset of the 21st century has thus seen a significant focus on sustainable energy conversion. Induction machines can convert power from wind turbines, hydropower plants, steam power plants, or even gas turbines.

We are paving the path towards “green energy policies”, with several countries setting regulations for the installation of renewable energy resources. This push for sustainable energy conversion requires advanced power electronics interfaces. We are moving from simple motor drives to intelligent power sources delivering power to smart grids.

To put it simply, the once primitive grids have now evolved into highly sophisticated networks, with motor drives enabling four-quadrant bidirectional operation. This advancement paves the way for future possibilities of a more integrated, power electronics-enabled world, contributing to the rise of what we call ”smart-grid applications”.

About the Authors

This blog entry was curated by Julio Serrano (UvaasaExEd Blog editor-in-chief) and is based on the paper publication titled ”A Concise History of Induction Motor Drives—Part 1 [History]” in the IEEE Electrification Magazine, 2023 by Professor Marcelo Godoy Simões from the University of Vaasa. For more in-depth information, please refer to the original publication. Prof. Marcelo Godoy Simões has personally approved and supervised this piece.

Professor Marcelo Godoy Simões has been an influential figure in the field of Power Electronics, with a career marked by significant accomplishments and global recognition. Currently, he holds a prestigious position as a Professor of Electrical Engineering in Flexible and Smart Power Systems at the University of Vaasa. Born in 1963 in Brazil, Simões has earned degrees from top institutions, including a B.Sc. degree from the University of São Paulo, an M.Sc. degree from the same institution, and a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, US. He furthered his academic credentials with a D.Sc. degree (Livre-Docência) from the University of São Paulo in 1998.

An esteemed scholar, Simões is known for his pioneering work in Power Electronics and his promotion of Smart Grids and Renewable Energy Conversion. Throughout his career, he’s been associated with several esteemed institutions such as the University of Vaasa, Colorado School of Mines, University of Tennessee at Knoxville (USA), and the University of São Paulo, and also worked as visiting professor in several other institutions around the world.

For his groundbreaking contributions, he was recognized with several awards, and is an IEEE Fellow Member, class of 2016, with the citation ”for applications of artificial intelligence in control of power electronics systems” and he was also a US Fulbright Fellow in 2014-15 working at Aalborg University (Denmark). His contributions to applying artificial intelligence in controlling power electronics systems have been particularly impactful, earning him a distinguished position in the field.

Authoring twelve books on topics such as power electronics, renewable energy, artificial intelligence, microgrids, and smart grids, Simões has left an indelible mark on these disciplines. His work transcends borders, promoting global cooperation and innovation in the field of power systems.