Post-NAECA: Conversation on coming standard for pumps

On April 16, NAECA went into effect. As Plumbing Engineer is wrapping up updates for that standard, we are also preparing for a new standard discussion: Department of Energy (DOE) pump regulations.

Through a conversation with industry experts on the subject, we take a preliminary look at how the standard will impact pump manufacturers, specifiers, end users, and the industry overall.

Following is a Q&A with Kirk Vigil, manager of business development for domestic buildings services at Grundfos; and Mark Handzel, vice president of product regulatory affairs and director of HVAC commercial buildings at Bell & Gossett.

PE: Can you describe what the pump standard will entail?

KV: Pump manufacturers are working together to recommend the scope, metrics and testing guidelines for DOE energy efficiency standards and regulations for pumps and circulators less than or equal to 5 HP. The efficiency standard will most likely be based on the current performance equivalent of circulators with the ability to vary speed. The regulation is likely to require that all pumps and circulators equal to or less than 5HP sold in the U.S. meet these DOE energy efficiency levels.

MH: The U.S. pump industry has been largely unregulated since the enactment of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. Since an estimated 20 percent or more of the electricity in the U.S. consumed by commercial and industrial water pumps, it’s time for the industry to commit to change that will improve the manufacturing efficiency of our products and reduce demand for electricity.

After several meetings, the Pumps Working Group presented the DOE ASRAC Committee with 14 recommendations, which include the development of test procedures, labels, and energy conservation standards that target only pumps designated for use in pumping clean water. While the pump efficiency standards guidelines include pump motors, these motors are already subject to separate energy conservation standards and are not being further regulated as part of this initiative. The DOE proposal addresses up to 70 percent of commercial and industrial pump energy use.

Note: The DOE and pump manufacturers did not have discussions about setting standards for circulators or circulators less than or equal to 5 HP. The current NOPR states that the recommendation of the ASRAC committee, where it was suggested that circulators be excluded from the initial rulemaking, is followed.

PE: When did conversations on U.S. pump regulations begin?

MH: All pump manufacturers have been encouraging their customers to increase their energy efficiency for years. The Hydraulic Institute (HI), which represents more than 450 pump manufacturers in 38 states, has been working with the DOE on this issue since 2011. Xylem (and previously ITT) has been involved in HI for more than 25 years, and we have been actively engaged in the pump regulations conversation for several years.

HI’s Pump Efficiency Expert Team (PEET) provided the DOE with extensive research about European Union (EU) standards and other primary efficiency data relevant to the proposed changes. Stakeholders in the pump industry support the government’s move to pattern the new regulations after the EU’s Minimum Efficiency Index (MEI) standards, as the most expeditious path forward for implementation. We’re global pump manufacturers, so we’d like to see some symmetry between the standards in Europe and the U.S.

KV: We have been working on establishing energy efficiency standards with various associations and committees since 2009. Because energy efficiency standards and labeling requirements for pumps and circulators had already existed in Europe, most of us realized it was only a matter of time before regulations and standards would come to America.

PE: Where does the industry stand regarding awareness of the standard?

KV: Pump manufacturers in the U.S. have involvement and knowledge that energy efficiency standards are being developed through their associations and committee work with the HI or the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute ( AHRI). Beyond that, I would say there is a “buzz” among the installer and distribution community regarding regulations and standards. Many of the installers I associate with have awareness of the European standards and labeling requirements, and wonder when will those be coming to the U.S.

MH: As responsible stewards of the environment, pump industry leaders are playing an active role in updating efficiency standards, so the conversations on pump regulations are happening. Several members of the Xylem team are on the DOE Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee (ASRAC) Commercial and Industrial Pumps Working Group. This group represents pump manufacturers, trade associations, customers, motor manufacturers and efficiency advocates, and was tasked to develop pump efficiency and testing recommendations for the DOE. This large group has worked hard to help raise awareness of the coming changes among peers and networks, so the industry can be prepared.

PE: What misperceptions have you heard, or do you foresee, about pump regulations?

MH: The biggest misperception has to do with the DOE’s lack of experience with pumps. When you only focus on the pump, the efficiency savings are far less than when you address efficiency in the entire system, including the pump, variable speed drives and controls. In partnership with the HI, we spent a considerable amount of time educating the DOE about the energy savings involved in the pump system.

The HI is also helping to make the rest of the industry (i.e., pump manufacturers that are not members of the HI) aware of the pending legislation and how it may impact their business to help eliminate potential misperceptions.

KV: There has been fear that we are going to adopt European standards, or do this just because it was done in Europe. I've also heard that it is an effort to create unfair competition among pump manufacturers and it will drive U.S. manufacturers out of business. Of course, none of this is true. The need for regulations and standards are driven by energy providers as a way to control any ever expanding demand for energy. After energy efficiency standards were introduced in Europe, not one pump manufacturer went out of business. Every manufacturer survived.

PE: Do you think the industry will transition to the regulations quickly and with ease, or slowly and with difficulty?

KV: Equipment costs are generally higher than traditional pumps and circulators sold today. With fractional horsepower circulators, new high energy efficient circulators can be double the cost of what an installer is use to purchasing and installing. However, payback, or return on investment for users is often very quick. Users will experience lower energy consumption along with lower energy bills. We have seen ROI in the range of 12 to 48 months depending on the size of systems and energy costs. Over the life of the pump, this can mean thousands of dollars in energy saving for a homeowner and hundreds of thousands in savings for building owners. The impact, or instead, the opportunity for the installer is huge. The installer will benefit financially from selling higher priced equipment. The homeowner or building owner saves on energy and fuel costs, and utilities have lower demand for power, meaning less need to expand and build new power plants. On top of this, less power consumption means less impact on the environment. The benefits and savings created by using high energy efficient pumps far outweigh the initial purchase price.

Keep in mind; the regulations are not “just around the corner.” There is still much to be done on developing the efficiency levels, metrics and testing methods. I predict we will not see a DOE standard for pumps enforced until around 2020. That being said, I think the transition will be uncomfortable for some, rather than difficult. The transition will not be driven by the DOE regulations. It will be driven by market demand and utility companies. We are already seeing market demand for higher energy efficiency and reduction of energy costs. Some utilities offer substantial rebates for energy efficient pumps. This is expected to grow exponentially. As the demand grows, manufacturers will transition more and more of their portfolios to energy efficient products, not because of a regulation, but because the market demands it.

MH: Manufacturers will adjust as they have with other changes and regulations that have reshaped our industry, such as the lead free legislation. The key for success in meeting the new regulations will rest with advanced planning and an awareness of the process and outcomes.

The DOE notice of proposed rulemaking is expected sometime in early 2015, with a final ruling anticipated by the end of next year. Pump manufacturers would likely have four years from the publication of the final rule to comply with the new standards.

Manufacturers who haven’t begun discussing how to address the upcoming changes may experience difficulties, but overall, the industry will manage it fine. Our own updates and efficient improvements came about as a result of our involvement with the HI and our desire to continuously improve total system efficiency. So, we are in a great place to meet new efficiency guidelines and anticipate further efficiency legislation that will likely happen in the future.

I don’t think the entire industry is in this same position, so some may find adopting these standards more of a process. With the efforts made by the HI to educate and update the entire industry on the changes, the transition may move slowly, but people will be aware and prepared to take action accordingly.

PE: What overall advice do you have for our readers regarding the standard?

MH: By working together and weighing the insights and needs of the industry from the perspective of manufacturers and other key players, these new standards will reduce electrical demand and improve the overall efficiency of pumps and pump systems in the U.S.

Though it is an enormous undertaking, it is the responsibility of corporate leaders to promote and support these forthcoming changes. Pump users have a choice to upgrade now to the type of energy efficient designs that will eventually be mandated by the DOE. We would encourage everyone to consider the energy efficient options when upgrading their systems and/or installing new ones.

KV: Keep this in perspective: think about the other products in our life that have energy efficiency regulations and standards. People seek and prefer Energy Star appliances. They shop for the most fuel efficient vehicles. They spend a lot of money on energy saving devices in their homes and businesses; look at light bulbs! Why? Because they realize and understand saving energy saves money. Energy standards for pumps and circulators are no different. Not only that, we should appreciate that it is the “right thing to do.” Being energy efficient is better for utilities, better for business, better for people, and especially better for the planet! n

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