Water—The Last Frontier of Energy Efficiency

A commentary on why the U.S. should follow the European Union’s lead in establishing minimum efficiency standards for the pump industry

Written by:
Jes Munk Hansen, Grundfos North America
Published:
December 29, 2012

Voluntary certification and labeling programs such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Energy Star have empowered businesses and individuals with the ability to use resources effectively and to protect the environment through superior energy efficiency. These programs have found success on a global scale and can be credited for raising the bar in their respective industries. The opportunity remains, however, to pioneer one last frontier of energy efficiency—water.

Out of sight but hard at work, pumps and pipes that supply water are essential to almost every aspect of modern life. From residential and commercial buildings to agriculture, industry and wastewater management, it is fair to say that pumps contribute significantly to our standard of living. Not surprisingly, enormous amounts of energy are required to keep them going. The Hydraulic Institute estimates that pumps and pump systems account for up to 20 percent of the global electricity demand.

Although pumps will always be responsible for a large portion of overall electricity demand, standards within the industry can help reduce energy usage by requiring manufacturers to design and produce more efficient pumps. The European Union (E.U.) has already implemented such regulations. The U.S. should follow suit.

Without minimum efficiency standards, American individuals and businesses are not getting the performance they should from their pumps. It is imperative that the overall technology level of the industry as a whole be raised.

The U.S. is currently stuck in a vicious cycle because energy production requires enormous volumes of water and the distribution of water is equally dependent on large amounts of energy. By 2030, the electric sector alone could consume as much water as the entire country’s domestic consumption in 1995, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Technology is the key solution to this energy and water connection. By greatly improving the efficiency of water equipment, the industry’s energy dependence can decrease.

The good news is that such equipment already exists. What the U.S. needs now is a labeling system to facilitate this technological jump to increase transparency within the industry in the eyes of American consumers, engineers and investors. A labeling system would encourage the entire industry to innovate and develop high-tech solutions.

The industry could voluntarily establish minimum efficiency standards and create a labeling system. The U.S. administration must act as a facilitator to shepherd it through the rigorous process. This has worked for the automotive, aviation and telecommunications industries, among others. The time has come for the water industry to take charge of its future in the same way.

This is all about industry competitiveness. Europe and Asia are hurtling toward higher levels of technology and, frankly, the U.S. is behind the curve. If the U.S. does not attempt to catch up by implementing minimum efficiency standards, it runs the risk of falling further behind.

What Has Europe Done?

All pump manufacturers in the E.U. are required to comply with certain design regulations before they are able to sell their products in the European market. Through the Eco-Design of Energy-Using Products (EuP) Directive, the E.U. requires that manufacturers improve the life-cycle energy costs of their products and reduce their overall environmental impact. This includes calculating products’ energy efficiency index (EEI), an indication of the annual consumption of the product relative to the standard consumption of a typical similar model. The E.U. began this initiative in 2007 on a voluntary basis and, as of 2013, all European manufacturers are required to follow it.

In addition to pumps and motors, the E.U. legislation covers all energy-using products that sell more than 200,000 units per year within the E.U. A glandless, standalone circulator is an example of a product covered by the directive. Beginning on Jan. 1 of this year, it must have an EEI of no more than 0.27. Two and a half years later, the EEI requirement drops to 0.23.

Without this legislation specific to circulators, total annual electricity consumption in the E.U. would reach 55 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) by 2020, as compared to the 50 billion kWh used today. This directive is expected to reduce that number by 23 billion, saving the equivalent of the residential electricity consumption of 14 million people in the E.U. That is eight times the population of Copenhagen.

Beginning in January 2013, this legislation will be implemented in the 27 countries that comprise the E.U. and in Switzerland, Norway and Turkey. As the E.U. has realized, pumps account for one of the greatest opportunities for energy savings.

U.S. Perspective

In the U.S., however, pumps have been largely overlooked in the ongoing energy efficiency debate. The current debate on energy focuses almost exclusively on energy supply. Questions about pipelines, drilling permits and renewable energy are, of course, important. It is equally important to look at energy demand and become more efficient in using existing sources. The pump industry is no exception.

In the U.S., many of the pumps used in commercial and industrial buildings were designed in the 1950s or even earlier. In addition to the fact that many pumps currently installed operate below optimal efficiency, many are larger than necessary and run continuously at top speed regardless of actual requirements. A study conducted by the University of Coimbra in Portugal estimated that two-thirds of pumps surveyed use up to 60 percent more energy than needed.

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