Should I Stop Using Medium Voltage Drive to Control a Motor of 1,000 HP or Less?

480V drives are the smarter choice for three provable reasons.

1. Initial Cost: 4160V drives cost more

Medium-voltage drives cost more than low-voltage drives. Significantly more.

The drive costs more, and you need more infrastructure to house and protect the drive. True, it costs less to install a medium-voltage drive, but that cost is a fraction of the overall cost differences between the two options.

There are also start-up costs. Low-voltage techs are readily available in most markets. Medium-voltage techs, who require much more training, are far less common and cost more. You typically have to schedule them well in advance for start-up work.


 The costs of installation (medium-voltage costs less)

4160V drive: $45,000


480V drive: $62,000


Installation cost difference:


Total savings with 480V solution: $95,500

2. Operating Costs: 480V drives are more efficient at lower horsepower

Not only are 4160V drives more expensive initially, for applications of 1,000HP or less, they are more expensive to operate. Considering that 800-1,000HP motors are the most common in the oilfield, a medium-voltage drive is simply overkill. Compare energy usage of our two options on one pump. 

4160V = 25.4kW

480V = 14.5kW

Energy savings = 25.4kW – 14.5kW = 10.9kW

At 10 cents per kWh, that is

$1.09 per hour

$26.16 per day and

Total savings on electrical per year: $9,548.40 on just one pump. But who operates only one pump?

480V vs 4160V: A five-year Cost-Savings Analysis

Total Savings on the Motor: $8,890.00

Total Savings on the Drive + Installation: $95,500.00

Total Operational Savings (x 5): $47,742.00

Total Savings for one pump: $152,132.00

3. The Intangibles: Fear, uncertainty and distrust

Beyond the simple comparison of cost, there are a number of reasons why 480V drives are a much better option. 

Fear. 4160V drives are inherently more dangerous. They require special skills to install, maintain and repair — skills that aren’t readily available. In most markets or in a crisis, there are far fewer professionals trained in this kind of work, so you can be left waiting for weeks. 

Finding professionals to work on a 480V drive is easy. They are readily available in every market. They are less expensive. In a crisis they can be on site in days, if not hours.  

Uncertainty. At SPOC, we stock every part for every drive we manufacture — for both new production and service calls. If something breaks, we can have a replacement part to you within 24 hours. More importantly, our suppliers stock parts all over the country. In many cases, we can have a part on site in an hour.

If you need a critical replacement part for a 4160V drive, you’ll wait weeks.

Fear and uncertainty breed distrust. The simple truth is that the harsh conditions of the oilfield wreak havoc on all technology at some point. What happens when a drive is down and your production grinds to a halt? How quickly, and safely, can your supplier get you back up and running?

And one last thing: Innovation. There are literally billions of low-voltage drives in use today. So guess where manufacturers are putting all of their innovation efforts? Almost all of the biggest advances in drives are happening in that arena. It’s simple economics. In the oilfield alone, 480V drives are far more common because they are an easier, smarter, more efficient method for controlling lower-horsepower motors. They just make sense.