It looks as if, effective in 2021, variable-speed pumps will become mandatory for powering a pool's or spa's filtration system and other applications.
After working with manufacturers, utility companies and energy-efficiency advocates, the U.S. Department of Energy has finalized a federal regulation setting forth minimum efficiency standards that a pool pump must meet to enter commerce in the United States.
Called “Energy Conservation Standards for Dedicated-Purpose Pool Pumps,” this is the second such regulation applying to the pool/spa industry – the other being efficiency standards for heaters.
The new federal regulation states that self-priming filtration pumps past a certain horsepower threshold – whether residential or commercial – must meet an established performance standard. Right now, that performance standard is only satisfied by variable-speed pumps.
That threshold is measured with a different system than traditional motor horsepower. The regulation states that self-priming filtration pumps rated between 0.711 and 2.5 hydraulic horsepower must meet the performance standard. Converted to motor horsepower, the regulation applies to motors between approximately 1 and 5 horsepower.
This means the industry will have to acquaint itself with a new labeling system. “There will be a learning curve as the labels change, as we reference horsepower in new terms,” said Jeff Farlow, program manager of energy initiatives for Pentair Aquatic Systems in Sanford, N.C. “We anticipate there will be some growing pains.”
Pumps less than 0.711 hydraulic horsepower can be single-speed, but even they probably will have to meet higher efficiency standards.
Waterfall pumps, defined as those operating at a maximum of 1,725 rpm (or half speed compared with a standard variable-speed motor), operating at low head with relatively high flows, will not be affected as they already meet high energy-efficiency standards. However, most pool, spa and backyard waterfeatures are not powered by these pumps, but rather with standard pool pump. Pressure-cleaner booster pumps can run with single-speed motors, but they will need to become more energy efficient.
The regulation will affect spa booster pumps.
While the regulation does apply to all residential and commercial applications, experts say large-scale commercial facilities likely will not be affected because they already are covered by other regulations.
The new requirements take effect July 18, 2021.
This differs from the Energy Star program, which is voluntary. Manufacturers will have to comply with the new regulation in order to sell their products in the U.S. “While there are some similarities between the two, DOE did not try to model [the regulation] after the Energy Star requirement,” Farlow said.
If anything, he said, the Energy Star requirements likely will have to alter somewhat to more closely resemble the new regulation. For instance, most 2-speed pumps currently meet the standards for Energy Star, but the new regulation will not allow them in filtration applications calling for a self-priming pumps between 0.711 and 2.5 hydraulic horsepower. “I wouldn’t see that program going away -- just that the bar will be much higher now,” Farlow said.
Additionally, this will supersede state regulations, such as California’s Title 20 appliance standard, which took the lead in setting efficiency standards for pumps when it passed in 2005.
Officials worried about a major loophole in the regulation – there's no mention of replacement motors. DOE plans to write language pertaining to this product category, likely in time for the new regulation to go into effect, said Gary Fernstrom, an energy consultant who participated in the committee that wrote the regulation.
With the relative price of variable-speed pumps going down, cost isn’t expected to present as much of an obstacle as before, Fernstrom said. “The DOE decided that the incremental cost of the variable-speed pump is now low enough that there shouldn’t be anybody who ought not to want one, because the payback is so quick,” he said.
While the time will vary depending on local utility rates, variable-speed pumps in most areas pay for themselves within two years, he added.
This regulation also may seriously affect the prospect of rebates. When 2021 approaches, we may see fewer of them offered by utilities: Since the government already will require energy-efficient pumps, utilities may feel less inclined to offer an incentive, Fernstrom said.
“It will either bring about an end to rebates, or a change to them,” he said.
However, technological advancements may create room for rebates past 2021. It is possible that, in the next few years, technological advancements will bring us even more efficient variable-speed pumps that surpass the new DOE standard. “It’s quite likely that rebates might persist for the better-performing variable-speed pumps versus the others,” Fernstrom said.
Farlow expects the new regulation to be an overall benefit for the industry.
“In the long term, this is really going to help [promote] a perception that our industry is contributing towards responsible energy savings and helping our consumers save money,” he said. “We think that can lead to additional equipment being sold on a pool, since consumers are not having to spend as much on energy to operate it."