Pump Technology Improvements Driven by Energy Efficiency
When it comes to improvements in pump technology, energy efficiency is the name of the game. Today, manufacturers are designing pumping systems with components like variable-speed motors that improve efficiency and reduce operating costs, according to several experts interviewed by Perspective Media.
For contractors, that means having new options to discuss with homeowners and commercial customers considering remodeling projects, additions and new construction. “You might want to explain to an end user that the new technology can result in 50 percent energy savings with perhaps a year’s payback period on that investment,” said Bob Reinmund, senior product specialist, Grundfos Pumps Corporation. “More often than not, the end user will opt for the new technology, which is easy to install and highly reliable as well.”
While the basics of centrifugal pump technology remain constant, new computer-aided design tools allow manufacturers to design energy-efficient pumps with tighter tolerances and less bypass flow around an impeller, according to Mark Handzel, director of building services marketing at Xylem Inc., Applied Water Systems. “The goal is to squeeze every possible ounce of efficiency out of the pumping system,” he said.
More efficient motors
In keeping with that objective, pump manufacturers are focusing on more efficient motor designs, such as bigger and better copper windings to minimize electrical losses. “We call it ‘wire to water’ because the goal is to transmit as much electrical power as possible to the water coming out of the pump,” said Handzel. Other advances include controls and software applications that adjust pump motor speeds to meet changes in demand. “Pumps are not smart on their own, so you have to provide feedback about increasing or decreasing the flow,” Handzel said.
Through these types of advancements, pumps are offering greater and greater efficiency in both residential and commercial applications, with the largest savings in high-volume environment like schools, hospitals and government buildings. “Instead of focusing on the purchase and installation cost, more users are paying more attention to energy efficiency,” Handzel said. “They are looking for systems that will deliver a better return on their investment.”
But achieving those desired savings requires that all elements of the system be designed to work in harmony. For instance, a hospital might require a pressure-boost package adapted to the pump requirements in order to ensure adequate water pressure in distant areas of the building.
“Many older commercial systems are designed with big pumps and pressure-reducing valves,” Handzel added. “That wastes a tremendous amount of energy. A much better solution today is to install a pump with a variable speed drive to match fluctuating demand. That can result in a great improvement in overall system efficiency.”
Reinmund says it’s also important to look at the boiler room as a whole in order to maximize efficiencies. “Boiler manufacturers had to meet a new efficiency standard this year, and the pump is the last part of that system,” he said. “Right now, several manufacturers are offering high-efficiency pumps that can lower overall energy consumption by at least 50 percent – even more if software is included.”
Residentially, the use of electrically commutated motor (ECM) technology is the most exciting pump technology development in recent years, according to Reinmund. “While new home construction is down, many owners are looking for more ways to lower their utility bills. “If I were a contractor, I’d say let’s go in and review the boiler room and see what we can do to reduce our energy costs. Look at the boiler and the pumps circulating the water. Often, this new ECM technology has a payback of just three to six months, and will certainly pay for itself in less than three years.
Hot water recirculation is another potential area of energy savings. “There are many products coming out that increase energy efficiency and hot water availability, along with water savings,” Reinmund said. “Why wait 15 seconds or a minute for hot water at your tap with that cold water going down the drain?”
Those savings could mount up quickly for a hotel, hospital or other institutional or commercial facility. “With a hotel on a hot water loop, the pumps tend to be oversized to meet peak demands. “With ECM technology you can meet the peak demand and then slow down the pump, using only 50 to 60 percent of the electricity to supply demand the rest of the day. We as an industry need to think about how to do hot water circulation.”
Looking ahead, Reinmund says ECM technology will be the wave of the future. “It’s the only technology that meets the energy standards now being discussed,” he said. “The refrigeration guys have embraced ECM technology, and now it’s our turn. This technology is not intimidating, he added. “It’s designed for ease of installation and set up.”
Technology is also advancing in the grinder pump market, according to Randy Waldron, vice president, sales & marketing, Liberty Pumps. “A lot of older gravity septic systems are being replaced with centralized sewer systems,” he said. “Grinder pumps can be a good solution for these systems, providing difficult solids-handling in both residential and commercial applications. Newer designs have improved the cutting performance as well as pumping efficiency.”
Another consideration for contractors in a home remodeling or addition project is the inclusion of a macerating toilet. “This product allows for an easy bathroom addition when you don’t have gravity sewer lines,” said Waldron. “It macerates the solid waste and can pump it to an existing sewer line in the building. If the owner puts in a basement or addition, you can add a macerating toilet to the system and pump the waste water to an existing line, saving money and time on the project.”
Waldron adds that many pump manufacturers are now providing contractors with complete pumping systems, rather than having someone at the job site fabricate and assemble the basin, pump, control panel and other internal components. “Shipping the systems ‘job-ready’ saves time in the field and reduces errors,” he said, noting that factory-matched components also make it easier for the engineer to specify an appropriate system. For commercial projects, pump manufacturers are adding building information modeling (BIM) capabilities that make it easier to “drop” the pumping system into the building design software, Waldron added.
One of the most common errors in the pump technology sector is “over-designing” or “under-designing” the system, according to Handzel. The pump needs to be appropriately sized for the application, he added.
Waldron encourages contractors to talk to pump professionals to be sure the correct type and size of pump is used in a commercial or residential project.. “We have an 800 number with technicians who can help you size product, helping to eliminate problems down the road,” he said.
In the commercial sector, many building owners and operators hire a commissioning firm to be sure a new system is working as well as it should. “Since money spent on energy is a big part of the operating budget, owners want to be sure they have an efficient system,” Handzel said. “That means monitoring performance on an ongoing basis, since the weak link in the system can be the maintenance team.”
New energy standards
Looking to the future, Reinmund points to the growing importance of the federal Energy Independence and Security Act on the commercial segment of the market. “By setting specific energy standards, the act got the industry moving on new technology,” he said. “Energy efficiency has always been important, but it’s now a mandate in some areas. That leads to better technology, while reducing the carbon footprint and lowering energy costs and consumption.”
While the energy act didn’t impact residential applications, several federal agencies are now reviewing the fractional horsepower motor market. “I believe we will see ratings come out that will address these smaller motors,” Reinmund said. In that regard, the U.S. would be following the European Union (EU), which has a new energy mandate coming into effect in January 2013. “Europeans have had high energy costs for a long time,” Reinmund said. “They are always looking for ways to reduce their energy bills and tend to embrace new technology very quickly.”