The aim of the EU Eco-design Directive is to improve the environmental impact of energy-intensive products by optimising their design. Since pumps require a lot of energy, some types of construction also qualify for this directive. Better design can save them energy. Considerably more can be achieved if the pump is not insulated, but rather regarded as a single unit together with the necessary electric motor and a controller. The European pump manufacturers have therefore developed a so-called extended product approach (EPA), which will be dealt with in the forthcoming EU legislative procedure.
After China and the USA, Europe has the third largest electricity consumption in the world – around 3,300 terawatt hours (TWh) per year. More than 300 TWh of this is accounted for by electric pumps. That is about as much as 30 large coal-fired power stations produce in electricity. No wonder that the EU Commission, in its efforts to reduce consumption, also considered regulating pumps at an early stage and commissioned an audit. “The Commission has selected those products and product groups that have the relatively highest energy consumption and where greater savings potential was suspected,” says Christoph Singrün, Managing Director of VDMA Pumps + Systems Association. Pumps clearly belonged to this group.
In contrast to many industries that see themselves restricted by regulation and try to defend themselves against it, the European pump industry has welcomed sensible regulation from the outset. After all, what they themselves had begun in 2004 basically continued at the political level: the search for efficiency gains. Using water pumps as an example, the European Pump Association Europump found that their annual electricity consumption of 137 TWh could be reduced by 35 TWh. This would make it possible to shut down about 4 coal-fired power plants. This saving can be achieved by adjusting the pumping capacity precisely to the pumping requirement. This works with the help of a controller, for example a frequency converter. This device makes it possible to reduce the speed of the motor driving the pump and thus also the power of the pump. Normally, the motor of a pump always runs at a fixed speed, the pump always runs at full throttle, so to speak. Even where the need for pumping power varies.
In a hotel, for example, the water requirement in the rooms is particularly high in the morning because the guests want to take a shower, but at noon it is comparatively low because there are hardly any guests in the hotel. However, the pump’s motor will consume as much electricity all day as it needs in the morning. If less is needed, the motor will be throttled. The energy fizzles out.
Keeping an eye on the right costs “The savings come from the fact that we regulate instead of throttle. So we achieve the 35 TWh by reducing waste,” says Thomas Heng, who is responsible for series pumps at pump manufacturer KSB and works in various working groups at Europump. The enormous energy savings therefore result from the ideal interaction of motor, frequency converter and pump. Consequently, it cannot be achieved by looking at the pump or the motor alone.
So why is this saving hardly used today? “Because you only consider the acquisition costs and not the costs over the entire life cycle. With a frequency converter, a pump costs considerably more than without,” says Heng. In most cases, the more expensive pump would pay for itself after about two to four years. At least in industry, this is a long time, since an investment often has to pay for itself after just two years or even faster. So far, industry has largely refrained from designing its pumps as efficiently as possible. This is all the more serious as the system planners often provide for generous performance reserves and tend to over-dimension. Pumps are designed for the highest possible operating point, even if this is never achieved in practice. You want to be on the safe side. But if you have a pump that is far too big anyway and still drive it at full throttle, the waste of energy is naturally huge.
Product approach falls short Since pump manufacturers have declared that they want to curb this waste, regulation is just the thing for them. However, there is a catch: the Commission is following a narrow product approach in the Ecodesign Directive adopted in 2009. This is because the directive initially focused on new consumer products such as refrigerators, televisions and light bulbs. A light bulb is turned on or off. If it is on, it consumes electricity, if it is off, it does not. A light bulb is autarkic, a pump is not. If one were to look at a pump separately and trim it to save electricity, Europump’s study found that savings of 5 TWh instead of 35 TWh would only be possible with extreme design and production effort. In principle, the EU Commission is prepared to consider the extended product approach as the basis for the efficiency analysis. But it cannot decide this on its own. “The problem is the member states. They say the extended product approach is too difficult for their market regulators to review,” says Frank Ennenbach, chairman of the standards commission at Europump and manager at pump manufacturer Sulzer. The critics’ argument is that if you combine three different products into one, no one can check whether that was done right and the savings are working.
The counterargument is heating pump. For this small pump, which is installed hundreds of thousands of times in houses, there is already regulation – even though it is an aggregate in which, strictly speaking, the extended product approach has been applied. In this small unit, the pump, frequency converter and motor are assembled in a very small space. The Commission has therefore considered the device as a product, even though it consists of three separate products. The first heating pumps were regulated under the Ecodesign Directive as early as 2013.
Second EPA test for water pumps Since 2012, there has also been basic regulation of water pumps, but only of the actual pump, that is the hydraulics, which transports a fluid from A to B. The water pumps are also regulated in principle. “We want to try to implement the extended product approach for water pumps in the upcoming revision”, says Markus Teepe, Chairman of the Ecodesign Working Group at Europump and representative of the pump manufacturer Wilo. So far, heating pumps have been subject to regulation as a unit and water pumps as a component. This is partly because there are the most of them, partly because large industrial pumps are often so special that they can hardly be grouped into one category.
In the EU Commission, it is customary to review decisions every 5 years. The review of the water pump issue has been delayed, but is now due for this year. The Commission usually has such technical issues reviewed by external consultants before reaching a decision. These experts meet with all parties involved. The pump manufacturers therefore have to convince us with their arguments.
Avert immenent competitive disadvantage But what if the extended product approach is ultimately not accepted? “We see a danger that we will not save the 35 TWh that we could save,” says Ennenbach. “We will then miss the opportunity to make a major contribution to sustainability and climate protection. We have everything we need. We just need the legislator making the right decisions.” But in addition to ecological responsibility, it is also about the competitiveness of the European pump industry, as other parts of the world have long since introduced drastic efficiency requirements for pumps. In the USA, for example, and also in Canada. Soon also in China. “As manufacturers, we must do something to avoid losing these markets. If we want to remain a technology leader, we have to show the efficiency gains in Europe,” says Ennenbach.