Circulator Pump Regulation Is Coming Soon

After years of delay, the U.S. Department of Energy is putting the final touches on its circulator pump efficiency regulation. Expect to see the new rule before the end of the year and likely take effect sometime within the next three or four years.

Category: Blogs, PSM Newsletter, Regulatory September 27, 2022

New regulations are going to change how we pump clean water.

After years of delay, the U.S. Department of Energy is putting the final touches on its circulator pump efficiency regulation. Expect to see the new rule before the end of the year and likely take effect sometime within the next three or four years.

In some ways, DOE’s new rule mirrors its commercial and industrial pump regulation. Yet circulator pumps are different in terms of size, power, integrated controls, and area of application. This means that the regulation will play out differently than the one governing commercial and industrial pumps.

To unravel how these differences will affect contractors, wholesalers, owners, and utilities, we spoke with Mark Chaffee, vice president of governmental affairs and commercial and industrial product management at Taco Comfort Solutions. As committee chair of the Hydraulic Institute’s circulator pump initiative, he worked with the DOE to shape the regulation and develop resources for the pump community.

HI: Why is DOE instituting an efficiency standard for circulator pumps?

Chaffee. The Department of Energy wants to make the economy more energy efficient and it has the right to regulate anything that uses energy. Its regulations cover everything from dishwashers and furnaces to lighting. On the circulator side, the change is going to be dramatic—mandated levels could lead to gains of up to 85 percent in efficiency.

HI: When will the new standards go into effect?

Chaffee. We could see the new rule by the end of the year, though it will take three or four years before its effective date when compliance becomes mandatory.

HI: What will the new standard cover?

Chaffee. It covers circulators. That’s defined as any sized wet rotor circulator pump along with any dry rotor two-piece pump or three-piece pump less than 1 hp. Above 1 hp, the current commercial and industrial pump rule takes over. For pumps that qualify, the DOE cannot force a manufacturer to use a specific technology. Instead, it sets an energy efficiency level that pumps must meet, but effectively, only high-efficient circulators with ECM motors will meet the standard. The regulation also establishes a test procedure to measure and rate performance. This was published in August and references current HI test standards.

HI: Does that mean changes in pump technology?

Chaffee. It does. Circulator pumps have been using permanent split capacitors, or PSC motors since they were first introduced. The only economical way to meet the new energy regulation is to switch to electronically commutated motors. Instead of running full-out all the time, ECMs use a microprocessor that can ramp a pump’s speed up or down to meet demand for flow. When demand is low, the pump runs slower and uses a lot less energy to operate.

HI: Will this change circulator pricing?

Chaffee. Circulators with ECMs are likely to cost one-and-a-half to two times more than conventional units, at least initially. We think there are ways to lower costs potentially. Savings might come from economies of scale from larger production runs, different rotor materials, and optimized ways to wind motors.

HI: Do DOE and industry define circulator pumps the same way?

Chaffee. DOE views circulators as smaller pumps used to move clean water in residential or light commercial applications that primarily include boilers, domestic hot water, and HVAC systems. The pumps themselves are more standardized than industrial pumps and are generally interchangeable with one another. Contractors may have a preference between dry and wet rotor pumps, and some may fit an application better than another, but all circulators essentially provide the same utility.

The Hydraulic Institute breaks this category down further. It defines three types of circulator pumps: CP1 wet rotor units; CP2, for close-coupled, dry rotor pumps; and CP3, mechanically coupled dry rotor circulators. Pumps with 1-200 horsepower are covered by DOE’s commercial and industrial rule since 2020.

HI: Are pump manufacturers ready for the change?

Chaffee. We are ready. Rulemaking actually started in 2016 and DOE and industry came to consensus about the changes. The rule was then put on the backburner when the Trump Administration came into office. The Biden Administration revived it, and it has taken two years for DOE to complete the procedural work needed to publish a final efficiency regulation.

HI: How will the regulations affect specifiers and contractors?

Chaffee. Most specifiers and contractors equate buying a circulator with buying toothpaste. I can’t tell you last time I debated whether to get a different brand of toothpaste. Until something changes, I’m perfectly content to buy the same toothpaste every time. Contractors feel the same way about the circulators they install. They know what works and stay with it.

The new regulations will make a contractor have to choose a different circulator, but there are also real benefits to switching to high-efficiency pumps. They not only use less energy, but they can also improve the efficiency of the entire system in which they are used. So, while the pumps cost more, the system benefit from those products is a potential benefit contractors can sell to their customers.

HI: Many utilities offer incentives for energy-efficient industrial and commercial pumps. What about circulators?

Chaffee. More utilities offer incentives for circulator pumps than for industrial pumps. This is because circulator pumps are easier for them to manage. Unlike industrial and commercial pumps, circulators are not custom products. The utilities can simply set a discount for each pump. A contractor can walk into a plumbing supply wholesaler and the discounts on the high-efficiency products are already applied.

Once the new DOE regulations go into effect, those incentives will go away. After all, efficient pumps will be the only pumps on the marketplace, so why should utilities subsidize their cost? This is why now, while discounts are still available, it is a great time for contractors and others to try a different flavor of toothpaste and get some experience with the new energy-efficient ECM circulators.

HI: What is the Hydraulic Institute doing to make the transition easier for contractors and professionals?

Chaffee. To begin with, we have a new labeling program that is similar to the one we created for industrial and commercial pumps. It enables users to search for pumps that fit their performance criteria and compare their energy usage to one another based on standardized tests.

The labels themselves provide basic information about the pump, its available controls, and an overall energy rating that compares the pump’s power consumption to a conventional circulator. The label also shows two numbers that represent the energy rating of the pump running full out and at its most efficient operating setting. It’s a little like the sticker on new cars that shows estimated city and highway mileage. You may not actually get that 50 miles per gallon on the highway, but the standardized test gives you a way to compare products.

The Hydraulic Institute has developed training materials for contractors and installers. This includes online and in-person classes as well as materials that manufacturers can use for their own training sessions. We wanted to develop a set of common tools to promote the use and highlight the benefits of using energy-efficient pumps. We also plan to have an online energy savings calculator, that lets users see their potential energy savings for a given pump based on their electricity cost and application.

Finally, we are  helping utilities develop more incentive programs so contractors can begin transitioning to high-efficiency products sooner rather than later.

HI: So, how do you see the next few years shaping up?

Chaffee. This is really an opportunity for industry transformation. This change has the potential to offset the CO2 emissions from more than 1 billion gallons of gas or provide the equivalent of a year’s worth of electricity for more than 1.5 million homes!

We have chosen not to just react to government rules but to be part of the solution. There are so many benefits to moving to high-efficiency products. They’re green, they save an awful lot of energy, and they make the entire system run more efficiently. It’s a great aspirational message about how our industry is taking an environmental leadership role and trying to do better.



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