Energy efficiency: where do we stand?

Much has been made of the potential to improve the efficiency of pump systems globally. With more than 40 per cent of the world’s energy consumed by pumps, the potential to have a real and lasting impact on energy consumption is significant. Here, we take a look at what is being done around the country to educate pump manufacturers, suppliers and end users about the energy their pumps are consuming – and the steps they can take to make their systems more efficient.

Energy efficiency, and how we can make our pumps and pump systems more efficient, has been a core focus for Pump Industry Australia (PIA) for more than 12 months now.

Last November, British Pump Manufacturer’s Association Executive Director Steve Schofield travelled to Australia and provided a range of insights into the energy efficiency programs currently in place in Europe and the US. During his visit his presentations provided food for thought and serious inspiration for both the PIA and the companies who attended his seminars.

Since Steve’s visit, PIA has been working with various sustainability bodies around the country (including the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, and Sustainability Victoria, among others) on a range of initiatives, designed to inspire and motivate the industry to take charge of what is, essentially, an incredible opportunity for the Australian pump industry. Armed with the knowledge that pumps contribute so significantly to global energy use, the opportunity is in our hands to build efficiency into our pumps and pump sets – providing customers with massive increases in efficiency and serious reductions in costs.

“This topic has been at the forefront of PIA activities and will remain so,” said PIA President Ron Astall. “It is my view that in general the pump industry is ahead of the game, with many suppliers and manufacturers actively promoting energy saving products and systems,” said Ron. “However, the specification writers and designers seem to be lagging behind.

“There are significant energy saving opportunities to be had with pumps and pumping systems. For example in the oil, gas and process industries, it is anecdotally believed that up to 70 per cent of installed electric motor capacity is for pumping. How true this is across all areas is difficult to gauge but it is clear that pumps are big consumers of energy.”

According to Ron, energy saving opportunities can be divided into equipment issues (pumps, drivers, controls) and process issues.

Equipment issues

To some extent there has been a move to address pumping equipment efficiency already through Mandatory Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) on electric motors. The PIA assisted with a proposed MEPS scheme for pumps through the Victorian Department of Sustainability and the Environment. A draft proposal was issued, but this has been put on hold for the moment; largely due to the fact that MEPS for centrifugal pumps is a very complex issue.

Pump efficiency varies inherently with pump size, with the rated performance conditions and by the application; such as solids handling, sewage, clean liquid, high viscosity etc.  Efficiency mandates for positive displacement pumps are even more complex and at the moment MEPS for positive displacement pumps have yet to be developed.

Pump designs are relatively mature and it is not considered that massive efficiency improvements are feasible for individual types of pumps. Possible improvements of up to 4-5 per cent may be feasible where a particular manufacturer’s products are not yet state of the art.  In the US, the Department of Energy is currently working on a labelling scheme for certain categories of mass produced centrifugal pumps; similar to the star rating we see on domestic appliances in Australia.

One area where larger gains could be made is by ensuring that inherently more efficient pump types are selected. In other words, making sure that operating speeds and pump configurations are ideal for the best pump selection. In this area, we believe that the difference between poor practice and best practice could reap potential improvements of between 30-50 per cent. This is primarily an educational issue and PIA has been very active here, providing speakers at technical conferences and by assisting other trade associations with training. We believe that there is definitely scope for the development of pump selection and best practice guidelines in this area.

Process issues

This relates to the design of the whole processing system. There is no benefit in having an efficient and well selected pump if the design and control of the system into which the pump is installed is very poor.

An obvious example is where pumps are oversized and need to be wastefully throttled to maintain system control.  Systems with undersized piping components that create excessive internal friction losses are another example.

This is an area that could be successfully addressed through pumping system audits and best practice guidelines. It’s worth noting that in order for regular system audits to become commonplace within industry, some sort of government intervention – in the form of regulation and regulatory requirements – will likely be required.

Globally, pumps have a crucial role to play in reducing energy consumption.

Globally, pumps have a crucial role to play in reducing energy consumption.

Where to now?

The next steps for the PIA – and indeed the industry more broadly – in the energy efficiency journey were discussed at the recent PIA General Meeting, held in Sydney on August 25.

Rebecca Williamson from the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage (OEH) attended the meeting and spoke to members about OEH’s plans for the energy efficiency landscape. The cornerstone of this is the NSW Energy Efficiency Action Plan, which sets out the steps the state needs to take to improve efficiency, with a clear goal of achieving annual energy savings of 16,000 gigawatt hours by 2020.

Ms Williamson is part of the Energy Efficient Business Team, which works to both strengthen the energy efficiency market and unlock energy productivity opportunities within business and industry. Ms Williamson’s team has a clear focus on the role priority sectors – such as manufacturing, commercial buildings, water treatment, aquatic centres and irrigators – can play in these energy savings. The team recognise that pumps cut across all of these sectors, and valuing the impact the pump industry could have in contributing to business action on energy efficiency, established a relationship with the PIA. Together, OEH and the PIA are focused on tackling energy efficiency in a few ways:

  • Providing subsidised energy audits to businesses in OEH’s priority sectors, whereby eligible businesses can be subsidised for up to 50 per cent of the cost of an audit that will identify the business’ big energy savings opportunities
  • Develop and deliver energy efficiency training to overcome key barriers such as understanding energy management, tools to develop a business case and how to optimise equipment and processes
  • Encouraging NSW businesses and the pump industry to access the NSW Energy Savings Scheme, which creates upfront financial incentives for organisations to invest in energy savings projects.

For Ms Williamson, the focus is really on the benefits members of the pump industry can enjoy by being proactive about energy efficiency.

“We find that many businesses tend to see their energy costs as fixed, and it’s just not the case. Energy costs can be variable and are influenced by three things, the type of equipment chosen, how that equipment is used, and when that equipment is used,” said Ms Williamson. “There’s nothing fluffy about understanding where energy is being used, and actively working towards reducing it. At the end of the day it’s about business improvement, reducing operating costs and ultimately making your business more competitive,” said Ms Williamson.

Ms Williamson issued members with a challenge to get involved in the drive towards improved energy efficiency, speaking with passion and enthusiasm on how industry associations such as the PIA could work together with the office to develop and publish best practice guidelines and training initiatives on energy efficiency.

“We want to work with the industry to better understand the challenges that are being faced, and we want to work with you in partnership to help NSW businesses realise many of the benefits energy efficiency can provide,” she said.

According to Ron, Rebecca was an excellent spokesperson and her presentation created a great deal of interest. “With members from a wide range of pumping applications including domestic, irrigation, water supply, drainage, through to heavy industrial pumping, we have available a significant group of experienced and knowledgeable people,” he said.

“It’s early days, but we are committed to continuing to explore the ways that the PIA can be involved in promoting the benefits of energy efficient design, and to encourage our members to be proactive in this space,” concluded Ron.

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