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Shale gas boom propels North American drives market

15 July, 2013

Sales of variable speed drives for use in natural gas applications in North America are growing 1.5 times faster than the general drives market, according to a new report. The analyst Frost & Sullivan says the growth is being driven by the rapid expansion of shale gas extraction, an increase in natural gas exploration and production, and new investments in transport infrastructure.

According to the study, the market for low- and medium-voltage drives for natural gas applications was worth more than $350m in 2012. Although this represents less than 20% of the total drives market in North America, F&S expects trends in the industry – such as the approval of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals – to boost the growth rate further.

“With increased emphasis on energy independence in the US, exploration and production companies have escalated investments in natural gas extraction and new well development, thereby driving the electric drives market in the upstream segment,” comments Frost & Sullivan industrial automation and process control research analyst, Anshul Sharma. “In the upstream segment, reliability and the ability to optimise gas production are the critical factors of success.”

In midstream, most gas pipelines are in areas with limited access to electricity, and drives’ needs for good power supplies adds to their operating costs, dissuading potential users, according to F&S. Sales are also being curbed in midstream applications by the lack of a quick return on investment, and by end-users' preference for proven, conventional drive systems to avoid failures that could delay production and lead to financial losses.

In downstream applications, strict environmental regulations and concerns over emissions offer opportunities for low-emission electric drive systems, says F&S. Electric drives also boost overall system efficiency, and are therefore being used in processing applications such as gas compression and pumping.

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