UK's Pump Industry is on Renewable Energy Bandwagon, Should the US Follow Suit?

Posted: 5/8/2013

You may not have heard but the British Pump Manufacturers Association (the BPMA) has been working pretty hard to get loans for circulator pumps included in the UK's flagship Green Deal-a program design to insulate the United Kingdom's aged housing stock, save carbon emissions, keep people warm and generally make energy affordable. The idea is simple; participants get government sponsored loans to install green technology in their homes with no up-front costs. Then they pay back those loans via their utility bills over a variable period of time.

But because of inaccurate Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) rating from the UK's Building Research Establishment (aka BRE) circulator pumps have heretofore been excluded from the Deal; leaving an obvious and significant hole in the domestic heating program. As a result the industry engaged in active lobbying to get their circulator pumps included. Now the point here is not that there's plenty of evidence that utilizing modern circulator pump technology can make a significant contribution to any home energy savings effort and that as a result, their exclusion hinders the Green Deal's potential impact but rather that the BPMA aggressively pursued the UK program. It's difficult to not doubt that pump manufacturers here in the States would have done the same.

Of course this is a purely anecdotal assessment, but as you may recall a similar U.S. initiative, popularly known as "cash for caulkers," launched back in 2010 and even though it turned into something of a boon for the home improvement industry, the position of industry relative to the program was exactly reversed. Caulkers wasn't actively embraced by affected and potentially affected industries, it actually had to be aggressively marketed to them. And reading over the reaction of the BPMA the Green Deal you can't help but wonder if that attitude is a mistake.

Out of sight but hard at work, cutting edge pump technology is essential to almost every aspect of renewable energy production. From the pumps needed to circulate and store working fluid and for condensate extraction, feed water circulation on solar energy production islands to the centrifugal pumps used as quick response reverse running pumps that are indispensable components of so-called mixed power systems; so it's fair to ask if pump manufacturers should be playing a significant role in the popularization of Stateside renewable energy initiatives.

The pump industry could, for instance, voluntarily establish minimum energy efficiency standards and create a labeling system. Or in other words, pursue the approach that's worked pretty well for the automotive and aviation industries, among others. The time may have come for pump manufacturers to take charge of its future in the similar ways. In the end, this really isn't a "green" issue; it's an issue of domestic vs. global industry competitiveness.

Driven by government fiat, European and Asian pump manufacturers are hurtling toward developing tailor-made pumping solutions geothermal power generation, for concentrated solar power generation and cutting-edge systems for storing the energy produced from other renewable sources. Because of the Eco-Design of Energy-Using Products Directive, European pump manufacturers are required to comply with certain design regulations to be able to sell their pumps and motors in the E.U. More importantly, beginning in January 2013, this legislation was not only adopted within the Union but by Turkey and various other nations under membership consideration as well.

It's clear that the E.U. has realized that pumps account for one of the greatest opportunities for energy savings. But here in the U.S., pumps have been largely overlooked in the ongoing energy efficiency debate. As a result, frankly, the pumping industry here in the U.S. risks falling behind the technological curve. If we don't attempt to keep up by at least implementing minimum energy efficiency standards, we'll be running the risk of falling even further behind.

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