Jes Munk Hansen: Water -- the last frontier of energy efficiency


Jes Munk Hansen, president of Grundfos North America, was published in Pumps & Systems Magazine on Tuesday, Jan. 1.

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

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.

The Solution

The good news is that the technology already exists to virtually eliminate this problem. By applying sensors, software and controls, most water systems can be made smarter and more efficient.

While improving efficiency in every pump application is important, focusing on the municipal level is perhaps even more vital. Many cities across the U.S. experience significant water loss because of outdated infrastructure and leaking pipes. Water utilities are often forced to turn up the pressure to push enough water out to consumers, but the increased pressure causes a vicious cycle of more leaks. The World Bank estimated that 45 million cubic meters of pure drinking water are lost daily through distribution network leaks—enough to serve two-thirds of the U.S. population.

In addition to wasting water and damaging an aging infrastructure, leaks increase the energy needed to deliver water to homes. One company developed a solution to combat all three challenges.

The company provides a multi-pump solution operating at proportional pressure, in which the system is designed to supply precisely the flow needed at the pressure required, with a number of pumps running at their best efficiency points (BEP), instead of one big pump. The solution’s control provides proportional pressure control, gradual ramp-up and ramp-down, the cascade operation of up to six pumps, and monitoring and control with clear text messages.

With this solution, it is possible to break the cycle of water loss by reducing leakage rates, optimizing system pressure and preventing infrastructure damage—all while saving energy. In fact, the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) estimates that water utilities can save between 15 and 30 percent in electricity use by implementing similar technology.

The added benefit of reducing leakage rates is reduced stress on the country’s increasingly scarce water resources. Water conservation is essential in arid areas in the Southwest, but freshwater aquifers are stressed even in some urban areas in the Great Lakes region—such as Chicago and Milwaukee. Lack of water can seriously hamper the economy, halting permits for new residential, commercial and industrial developments, including the construction of new power plants.

Power plants require a lot of water. By improving water efficiency, the amount of electricity needed to move water can be greatly reduced. Water can also be made more available for electricity generation.

More efficient practices have the potential to reduce water demand and increase the supply of electricity at the same time. That is a fact that can no longer be ignored in the energy debate. Given the nation’s already stressed economic situation, never has it been more important to promote technology that boosts efficiency.

What the Industry Can Do

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) recently made a step in the right direction. In September 2012, the institute launched an Energy Efficiency Standardization Coordination Collaborative (EESCC) with the mission of assessing the energy efficiency standardization landscape and carrying out the development of a standardization road map to identify what standards, codes and conformance programs are available and what additional activities are needed to advance energy efficiency in the U.S.

Separate groups will focus on five areas of need:

  • Building energy and water assessment standards
  • Energy modeling, systems integration and communications
  • Building energy ratings and labeling
  • Evaluation, measurement and verification
  • Workforce credentialing

The groups will cover the residential, commercial, institutional, industrial/manufacturing, data center and water/wastewater market segments.

Although it certainly promises to make progress toward the development of minimum efficiency standards in the U.S., EESCC does not go so far as to initiate the development of standards. Unfortunately, now is not the time for incremental change.

The brutal drought in the summer of 2011 was a grave reality check that highlighted how extraordinary events could affect the nation’s vital water supply. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a third of the counties in the U.S. will face high or extremely high risks of water shortages during the next four decades. If these increasing water shortages are not overcome and water management practices are not improved, economic development will stagnate in many areas.

The first step to achieving this would be to establish a labeling system allowing American consumers to easily distinguish energy-efficient water systems from inefficient ones. Currently, no real choice exists for consumers and developers who are not technical specialists. Energy- and water-conscious architects, builders, homeowners and tenants should be empowered to pick and choose between water systems based on efficiency.

The U.S. should learn from the example the E.U. has set and begin implementing similar standards. If the entire industry is raised to a new era of technology, the U.S. will be able to meet its growing demands for both water and energy.

The U.S. has already made progress in improving efficiency in the building and electricity industries. Water is the next frontier. It is time to adapt and innovate once again.

Read the text in Pumps & Systems Magazine.

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