by Joe Evans, Ph.D.

Last month we explored the effect of the system curve on the output of two identical centrifugal pumps operating in parallel. This month we will review several other factors that can also impact their performance.


Unstable Pump Curves

In a stable head/capacity (H/Q) curve, head rises continuously as flow decreases and reaches its highest level at shut off. This curve type is typical of most centrifugal pumps. There are times, however, when a pump design may push the efficiency envelope and result in an unstable curve similar to Figure 1 (below).

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"230","attributes":{"alt":"Unstable curve","class":"media-image","id":"1","style":"float: left;","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]This curve reaches its maximum head between 50-gpm and 75-gpm and then falls substantially as it approaches shut off. Even the head produced at BEP (125-gpm) is higher than that produced at shut off. Theoretically, small changes in system conditions could cause this pump to oscillate between higher and lower flows if it is operated in the highest head region of the curve.

Although pumps with unstable curves can work well in many applications, they are not suited for operation in parallel. Why? If the primary pump is operating at a head that is higher than shut off, the secondary pump may not be able to produce enough head to come online. This is especially true for larger pumps that may be started against a closed valve. Several agencies recommend that all pumps should have stable H/Q curves. API mandates them for parallel operation and recommends a minimum head rise from rated capacity to shut off of 10 to 20 percent.

Non-Identical H/Q Curves

Figure 2 (below) shows two pumps with unequal flows but identical shut off heads operating in parallel. This example is typical of a duplex pressure booster system that pairs a smaller jockey (lead) pump with a larger lag pump. A similar configuration is sometimes seen in sewage lift stations where infrequent but unusually high flows may occur. Even though the individual flows vary substantially, the equal shut off heads and stable, continuously rising curves allow them to function properly.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"231","attributes":{"alt":"Parallel operation - unequal flow","class":"media-image","id":"1","style":"float: left;","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]As with identical pumps, each will contribute to the parallel flow based on individual flows at a particular head point. Just like any parallel pumping system, the system curve must be factored into the equation.

Often the "as built" system can cause the pumps to operate well to the left of BEP, and prolonged operation in this area can adversely affect pump life. For example, if the system conditions will allow the pumps in Figure 2 to operate at 163-ft of head, both will operate near BEP. If the system curve forces them to operate at 171-ft, both will run much less favorable portions of their individual curves. In Pump FAQs (Pumps & Systems, November 2007), the Hydraulic Institute states, "For reliable pump operation and maximum energy savings, both pumps must be operated at or near their BEP."

Figure 3 (below) shows the result when pumps with unequal head and flow are operated in parallel. The red (parallel) curve shows that the lower head pump will not begin contributing to parallel flow until the flow of the higher head pump exceeds 100-gpm. As flow increases and head decreases, both pumps will contribute to parallel flow in the same manner as in the previous example.

HI and other agencies discourage using pumps with unequal shut off heads in a parallel application. I agree that this is a good general rule, but in applications where elevation is the primary system component, they can operate successfully. The pumps must be started in proper sequence, and the system conditions must allow both pumps to operate at or near BEP.