July 29, 2016 Update: The Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee (ASRAC), an advisory committee to the Department of Energy, today approved the Dedicated Purpose Pool Pump working group standards proposal. This marks the next step toward DOE issuing a final pool pump standard.
What’s cooler than a dip in a refreshing pool on a hot summer day? How about knowing that the pool will cost less to operate and will save energy, thanks to a recent agreement for new pool pump efficiency standards reached unanimously by manufacturers, efficiency advocates (including NRDC), and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
There are more than 5 million in-ground and 3.5 million above-ground pools in the U.S., in places ranging from the warm climates of California and Florida to chillier locations like Massachusetts, Ohio, and Michigan. It takes a lot of energy and costs a lot of money to circulate the roughly 20,000 gallons of water in the average in-ground pool: upwards of $500 in electricity each season (or more, if the pool is in operation year-round). In many cases, a pool pump is one of the top energy hogs in a home, but unlike other high-energy-use equipment, pool pumps have never had to meet a federal efficiency standard. The pumps used to circulate the water in many of these pools waste immense amounts of energy, because they use outdated, inefficient technology. However, efficient pumps are widely available in the marketplace and the technology is tested and proven.
This means there is great opportunity for savings! Once adopted by DOE, new efficiency standards cut the energy use for in-ground pool pumps by about 70%, and will save the owner of the in-ground pool around $2,000 on average over the lifetime of the pump. And those savings add up across the country. The standard levels agreed upon in this negotiation will save 404 million megawatt-hours of electricity over the next 30 years of shipments. That’s equivalent to the electricity used for a year by 37 million households, which is the number of households in California, Texas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Georgia, Wyoming, and Florida combined. Standards will help achieve President Obama's emissions reduction goal, too: more than 57 million metric tons of carbon will be avoided between now and 2030, which is equivalent to the emissions from 12 million cars for one year. And these energy and pollution savings will continue for years into the future!
How do we get these savings?
The bulk of the savings comes from the switch from single speed to variable speed motor technology. Pool pumps are used to circulate the pool water through the filter, cleaner, or heater, to ensure that water is safe, clean, and comfortable. Like their name implies, single speed pumps run at only one speed. These pumps then must be designed to be powerful enough to meet the pump’s most demanding workload, which tends to be when the pool cleaner is in use. However, the pool cleaner is operating only a small fraction of the time. That means that for the less-power-intensive functions of water circulation and filtering, the single-speed pump is still running at the same high speed, therefore using much more energy than necessary.
Variable speed pumps, on the other hand, adjust their operating speed based on what function they are performing. So, the pump will operate on a higher speed when the pool is being cleaned, but then will adjust back to a lower speed for filtration and water circulation, which results in huge energy savings. A pump running in lower speed also tends to be quieter and leads to less wear and tear on the filter and other parts of the pool system.
What’s next for pool pumps?
Once the negotiated standard is adopted by DOE and takes effect, new pool pumps for both in-ground pools and above-ground pools will be required to meet a federal energy efficiency standard. This is the first time this product is being regulated by DOE. Far from being a top-down decree by the Department, the recommended standard was developed through a consensus negotiation, with the working group consisting of representatives from pump and motor manufacturers, industry associations, NRDC and other advocates, and DOE. Over the course of 10 months of meetings, the working group took a deep dive into every aspect of the standard, from definitions to actual efficiency levels. The efficiency levels that were ultimately chosen will result in not only substantial bill savings for customers, but also quieter pumps that prolong the life of the filtration and other attached systems.
The proposed standard covers pumps that are less than 2.5 hydraulic horsepower (a function of the pressure and the required water flow), which was chosen in order to cover the vast majority of pumps used in all but the largest pools. Pool pumps covered by the standard could be installed in both residential and commercial pools, so communities, schools, and other facilities may be able to reap the savings, as well. As for the pumps that are not covered by the standard, mainly those serving large commercial pools, DOE will collect data on this equipment to better inform a future standard.
So the next time you go for a dip in your local pool, relax and know that pool pump standards will soon be hard at work behind the scenes to save energy, money, and make the world a little cooler.