1. Clean Power Plan
Aug. 3, 2015, marked a historic day for the power generation industry. In an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the effects of climate change, the Obama Administration revealed the Clean Power Plan, the final version of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) regulations on coal-burning power plants.
Called "Obama's biggest global warming move yet" by The Washington Post, the Clean Power Plan is intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants 32 percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.
The plan provides each state with a goal for emissions reductions as well as several options for meeting those goals. Many states are making significant efforts to increase the percentage of electricity supplied by renewable energy sources and to improve the efficiency of existing power plants to reduce reliance on coal, decrease emissions and comply with the new regulations.
On its website, the EPA reports that this plan will prevent "thousands of premature deaths," provide "public health and climate benefits worth an estimated $34 billion to $54 billion per year in 2030," and only cost $8.4 billion. Supporters of the plan herald these benefits and cite that, Clean Power Plan aside, the U.S. grid is already making the shift to renewable power.
Others anticipate positive economic impact. An August 2015 Forbes article titled "3 Ways The Clean Power Plan Will Strengthen Our Economy" predicts that the law will usher in "hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs," that it will reduce the cost of electricity and that it will encourage innovation.
"The Clean Power Plan is an incredible economic opportunity that states can't afford to miss," Forbes contributor Jim Marston said in the article.
Others assert that the pressure these regulations place on power plants will harm state economies that heavily rely on coal production. According to BBC, many utility companies argue that the consumer will receive the biggest blow in the form of increased power bills.
For those who work in the heart of the power generation industry, however, the concerns go beyond economic impact. "We need base-load power," says William Livoti, power generation business development manager at WEG Electric Corporation and Pumps & Systems Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) member. "Fifty-five percent of the power plants in the U.S. were coal-fired. Fast-forward to today: It's (about) 35 percent."
Power industry professionals like Livoti worry that a continued decline in base-load power—namely coal-fired plants—will contribute to a less reliable grid.
"Coal-fired power plants were never designed to run at reduced load. They were designed to run at full load all the time," Livoti says. "So now, because of this influx of renewable energy on the grid, coal-fired power plants are swinging the load, and this is killing the reliability of these plants. At a recent conference I was at, that was the No. 1 topic of discussion: how to maintain reliability under these operating conditions."
The majority of these reliability problems and failures are associated with the plants' pumping systems, Livoti says. These load swings are placing added pressure on pumps, mainly circulating water pumps, boiler feed pumps, condensate pumps and heater drain pumps.
"A majority of these coal-fired power plants are over 40 years old," Livoti says. "So now you're pushing them back on load and stressing 40-year old equipment. That's like taking your 40-year-old car on a drag strip. … The power industry doesn't know what to do."
Compounding the problem, Livoti adds, is the lack of a national energy policy that gives the power industry guidelines for how to comply with these new regulations. In the face of these challenges, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must continue to develop innovative solutions that allow power suppliers to optimize their pumping systems, and power suppliers should consider using variable frequency drives (VFDs) to help control the speed of their pumps.
"New technology is going to drive the power industry, and pump technology needs to be a part of it," Livoti says. "The generators and the boilers are the heart of the power plant. The pump systems are the arteries. … (Pump OEMs) must step up to the plate and come up with creative technologies that can handle the cycling required by power plants."
At press time, the Senate had voted to block the Clean Power Plan, a move that Obama plans to veto, according to a November 17, 2015 The Washington Post article.
2. The DOE Energy Conservation Standard for Pumps
In June 2011, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued a Request for Information that began the process of regulating pump efficiency in the U.S. for the first time. Since then, the Hydraulic Institute (HI) has been at the forefront of the development, coordinating responses from industry stakeholders, gathering data and implementing related initiatives.
The result of these efforts, the Energy Conservation Standard for Pumps, is slated to be released in its final version in the first quarter of 2016. Once the standard is made law, pump OEMs will have four years—by 2020, if the final version is not delayed—to comply.