First-ever pump efficiency standards take effect, but the Trump administration puts additional savings on hold

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Joanna Mauer

In January, the first-ever pump efficiency standards in the U.S. took effect. The new standards were negotiated by a broad range of stakeholders back in 2014 and will provide savings in a wide variety of commercial and industrial pump applications. However, despite requests from industry, efficiency advocates, and consumer groups, the Trump administration has refused to implement standards for additional pumps and pump motors, which will harm both consumers and manufacturers.

The new standards that just took effect apply to clean water pumps between 1 and 200 horsepower, which are used in applications such as irrigation, circulation of hot and cold water in commercial buildings for heating and cooling, and pressure boosting in high-rise apartment buildings. The standards required the least-efficient 25% of pumps to be redesigned to improve efficiency and reduce energy losses. According to estimates from the Department of Energy (DOE), pumps meeting the new standards sold over 30 years will save customers between $400 million and $1.1 billion.

Unique design element ramps up savings

The design of the new standards will facilitate even greater savings. The new pump efficiency ratings reflect not just the power consumption of the pump itself, but also of the motor that drives the pump and any controls. Importantly, the ratings capture the energy saving benefits of variable speed drives, which can reduce energy consumption in many pump applications by up to 50% or more. The Hydraulic Institute, which represents pump manufacturers, has developed an “Energy Rating” label to help communicate the energy and operating cost savings from more-efficient pumps, and their Energy Rating database, which now lists more than 8,000 pump models, is designed to help facilitate incentive programs.

Trump administration stalls additional progress on circulators…

While the new standards are good news for users of clean water pumps, the Trump administration has stalled additional progress, which will result in lost savings for consumers and harm to manufacturers. In 2016, pump manufacturers, efficiency advocates, and other stakeholders negotiated new standards for pumps referred to as “circulators,” which are used for domestic hot water recirculation and to circulate hot water for space heating in homes and commercial buildings. DOE estimated that the standards would save consumers up to $4 billion over 30 years. The Hydraulic Institute sent a letter to Secretary Perry in 2017 urging DOE to publish a rule implementing the negotiated circulator standards and noting that “thousands of pump manufacturing, pump distribution and pump installation jobs” would be supported by the standards. But DOE has yet to take any action, and DOE’s recently finalized “Process Rule” would likely make it impossible for the standards to be implemented.

…and pool pump motors

Similarly, in 2018, pool pump and motor manufacturers, efficiency advocates, consumer groups, and utilities submitted a joint recommendation to DOE for standards for pool pump motors, which would close a loophole in existing pool pump standards set to take effect in 2021. Pool pumps meeting the 2021 standards will reduce energy use by about 70% and provide annual operating cost savings for pool owners of about $550. However, without complementary standards for pool pump motors, both the savings from the pool pump standards and the investments that manufacturers are making in meeting those standards will be put at risk. DOE solicited comment on the joint proposal in 2018 and received only supportive comments, but has yet to take any action.

The standards now in effect for clean water pumps represent an important step in improving the efficiency of a major type of energy-using equipment. But until standards are set for circulators and pool pump motors, consumers will lose out on electricity bill savings and manufacturer investments in high-efficiency products will be undercut.