New Funding for Pumps, Labor Shortages Will Dominate Pump Landscape in 2022

This coming year will see some profound changes in the pump systems landscape. These range from new funding for water systems and labor shortages to renewed emphasis on sustainability and the continued growth of smart pumps.

Category: Blogs, PSM Newsletter December 14, 2021

This coming year will see some profound changes in the pump systems landscape. These range from new funding for water systems and labor shortages to renewed emphasis on sustainability and the continued growth of smart pumps. Let’s take a quick look at five trends to keep your eyes on going into 2022.

Funding for water system upgrades

The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November will inject billions of dollars into potable water and wastewater upgrades over the next five years. Ordinarily, the federal government invests $2 billion in both drinking water and wastewater, which is matched by state and local governments. The new infrastructure bill will quintuple this to $10 billion each, as well as a large increase for the industry’s funding mechanisms, the Water Infrastructure and Financing Investment Act (WIFIA). 

Given that many state and local projects spend more than the amount of money needed to match federal grants, the current U.S. investment in water systems runs about $15 billion annually. The new infrastructure bill will lift that to $55 billion per year through 2026. This level of spending is unprecedented, and it will include funding for pumps that meet the new 2020 standards for energy efficiency.

People shortages

Studies have shown that every $1 billion invested in water infrastructure creates 23,000 high-paying jobs in engineering, manufacturing, and construction. At $55 billion, the new infrastructure plan is likely to set off a mad scramble to line up the workers needed to upgrade America’s water systems. 

Pumps, in particular, are complex systems that involve tight tolerances, precision machining and assembly, and knowledgeable experts for system design and installation. Finding that skilled workforce may prove a challenge, since unemployment rates today are running about 1.5 percent lower today than their historical average between 1948 and 2021. 

At the same time, the move towards energy-efficient and especially smart pumps presents a challenge. While their embedded sensors and the internet of things connectivity may enhance efficiency, today’s workforce needs to learn how to interact with these systems in order to reap their full benefits. The Hydraulic Institute is committed to ensuring industry has the tools, training, and trusted knowledge to meet these challenges. From seminars, online webinars, and standards to training programs and pump selection software, it is developing resources to help the industry skill up for the challenges ahead.

Rethinking sustainability

Sustainability has become a popular way for corporations to show they are good global citizens. Along the way, they have found that doing the right things—setting and meeting environmental goals—the right way boosts their bottom lines. 

This is changing how leading corporations and a growing number of water systems look at pumps. They increasingly take a systems view that looks at total cost of ownership, particularly when it comes to conserving energy and water. 

Over a pump’s lifetime, energy and maintenance account for two-thirds of the cost of owning a pump. Buying a more efficient, more reliable pump up-front makes sense if they can save money downstream. Adding smart pumps and using the data to keep the system well maintained and optimized ultimately saves energy while reducing waste and avoiding unexpected stoppages. This philosophy enables these organizations to better manage other costs that often remain hidden in a pump system, such as treating or cleaning excess water used in a process or hiring more staff to handle unexpected maintenance issues.

New tools for energy efficiency

Talk with top executives about lifecycle energy and maintenance costs and they will almost always opt to spend more now to reap savings for the many years that pump will be in service. Unfortunately, these are not the people designing new facilities or replacing a failing pump system. As a result, energy savings has rarely been on the radar. 

This has begun to change. In 2020, new federal standards took effect for certain 1800 rpm (4-pole) and 3600 rpm (2-pole) clean water pumps up to 200 horsepower. The Department of Energy is currently considering expanding the scope of those regulations or the standard level itself.  Scope expansions could be additional pump types or additional speeds. DOE also published a proposed rule for circulator pumps, which could result in a final rule in 2022.

The switch to more energy efficient pumps provides an opening for those on front lines, including manufacturers’ representatives and distributors, to begin a conversation about energy savings. To make this an easier type of conversation, the Hydraulic Institute has developed a label that quantifies the energy efficiency of pumps as measured by labs whose methods have been validated by a third party. The institute also provides a software tool that uses this number to calculate dollar savings over a minimally compliant pump of the same type over its lifespan.

These two steps make it easier for decision makers to compare the total cost of ownership of different pumps for specific applications. It also simplifies how utilities determine who receives incentives for buying more efficient pumps. Often, the payback for these pumps is three years or less, and even faster with utility incentives. 

The challenge, however, remains aligning corporate sustainability goals for energy and maintenance with operational decisions. The development of energy ratings and comparison software is an important first step in developing a common language to connect these two groups with one another.

Smarter and connected pumps

Although they have the higher initial cost, smart pumps may be the most cost-effective way to achieve long-term energy savings. “Smart pumps” themselves are marvels of integration, featuring sensors to monitor things like pressure, temperature or power, logic boards to calculate efficient operating points, variable frequency drives (VFDs) to adjust motor speed, and often electrically commutated motors (ECMs) that change speeds efficiently. 

This package of technologies lets smart pumps sense changes in system demand and alter their speed accordingly. If, for example, pressure drops when guests at a hotel shower in the morning, a smart pump could ramp up speed to keep pressure steady, then lower it as demand drops. Although the pump might have the same capacity as a conventional pump, its ability to vary its output keeps it operating at the lowest power that meets the system demand. 

Connected pumps can provide information to help plan service or detect approaching failure. This enables operators to schedule service when convenient and avoid expensive system shutdowns. Operators can also use smart pump data to optimize pump and pump system performance. 

Many large pumps have featured similar capabilities in the past. What is different going into 2022 is that miniaturized sensors, battery powered sensors, electronics, and internet connectivity make them economical for increasingly smaller pumps.

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