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Intelligent insights from pumps are the foundations for better energy efficiency

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As the journey to Net Zero continues apace, the need to upgrade ageing and inefficient heating and hot water circulator pumps has never been greater. David Williamson, Sales and Marketing Director from Wilo UK discusses how innovation and intelligent insights offered by these products is changing the landscape with building energy strategies.

Following the February announcement of the UK government’s new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, building owners, specifiers and energy engineers are likely already gearing themselves to help make this a reality. However, while the lofty ambitions are admirable, there remains a key question – how will this actually be achieved?

Unquestionably, the ideal would be to knock down inefficient buildings and construct new ones in their place. This would be a near-guaranteed way to bring energy usage down, given that innovative building design techniques and materials can be used to make them more economical. In reality however, this ideal is not feasible – costs would be too high, there’s little availability with land, and carbon released from construction may well defeat the objective.

Indeed, The Climate Group has projected that 80% of buildings that will be standing in 2050 have already been built. Clearly, the best pathway to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption lies within upgrading legacy building services. And, one relatively easy win is to swap out inefficient heating and hot water circulator pumps that exist across countless ‘light commercial’ buildings in the UK.

However, with so many products available in the market, simply choosing a circulator pump can be a minefield for specifiers. To make the right choice, it is vital to understand what modern pumps are capable of.

The retrofit opportunity

For many ‘light commercial’ buildings, unless there has been an active building management strategy in place, the probability is that the heating and hot water circulator pumps in these premises will be ‘of an age’. If the pump hasn’t broken down either, there may even be the possibility that they are the original pumps installed during the building’s construction, running on highly inefficient AC motors, working at fixed speeds, and operating in silo to other building services.

Taking these pumps and comparing them to newer equivalents is almost like comparing apples to oranges. Whether it’s in efficiency, performance, functionality, ease of use, installation or maintenance, old pumps are worlds away from their modern counterparts.

One of the biggest changes in pumps is the advent of ‘smart’ technology, and this has been made possible with the breakthrough of electronically commutated (EC) motor technology. To illustrate this, switching from a circulator pump with an AC motor to one with an EC motor provides an immediate 30% reduction in energy use. Many of these newer pumps also have variable speed drives on board too.

So, alongside the EC technology, and when coupled together with controls, pumps can become much ‘smarter’ in operation. This result is that pumps can work at lower speeds while still performing their necessary function, meaning energy savings can be increased to approximately 60%.

Some pumps, like the Wilo-Stratos MAXO or the Wilo-Stratos PICO, can also ‘learn’ the operational characteristics of a heating or cooling system. They do this by using Wilo’s Dynamic Adapt Plus or Multi-Flow Adaptation technology. The former allows the pump to continuously adjust and maintain peak performance as system dynamics change, while the latter facilitates communication between the main pump and any secondary pumps within a system. With both, the circulator pump can be configured to adapt in real-time to demands and work holistically with other building services.

Intelligent insights for building energy strategies

Pumps should no longer be seen just as a vehicle of moving water around a building. Along with immediate energy savings through smarter, automated operation, pumps can also be used to help define an ongoing energy usage strategy.

Performance data, alerts, warnings and notifications can all ensure systems are well maintained and operating to their highest efficiency at all times. Data such as heat flow, cooling flow, volume flow is all available from modern pumps, helping to provide valuable insight into a building’s energy needs.

This data may have previously been hidden with static (or sometimes now known as ‘dumb’) products and equipment. The combination of this data with other smart systems can provide insight into usage patterns and even factor in weather conditions. The result is better-regulated indoor climate control that keeps power consumption to a minimum.

On a commercial level, this connectivity can allow multi-occupancy buildings to be better managed in terms of billing purposes. Visibility of usage just like smart meters and water meters encourages users to better manage consumption. For example, generally, people with water meters typically use 25% less water than unmetered accounts.

Even in new buildings, it should be noted that many of the operating characteristics allow for margins from the calculated, expected energy use, and are thus ‘over specified’. To this end, retrofitting a pump can be considered a somewhat better solution, as specifiers can size and match pumps based on the building’s actual day-to-day requirements.

Making pumps work for those installing them

Picking circulator pumps based on their capabilities and functions is just one part of the equation. There must also be some consideration for making them fit into the spaces where they need to go. For instance, building services are more complex than ever, yet still need to go into tight airing cupboards, or service risers and plant rooms with limited access.

Choosing a well-engineered product can make all the difference here for the installers who then go onto fitting them. For example, big, bulky and heavy pumps may not fit as required. Another area to be mindful of is commissioning. Too frequently, poorly designed pumps make this step more confusing than necessary, and, if too complicated, it means there’s the chance that installers may put the wrong settings in and negate any potential savings.

Here, smart modern pumps like the Wilo-Stratos MAXO can do away with this hassle for installers with its small footprint. It also has one-click commissioning and a settings assistant for pre-set applications, along with a large digital display and intuitive user-interface. Pumps can also come with Bluetooth connectivity too, which is useful if pumps are located at a high level or in small plantrooms – and an added benefit is that with Bluetooth, settings can be copied to other pumps or retained for future use.

Pumping in more data for a better outcome

In commercial applications like hotels, restaurants and small office blocks, where there’s a real need and drive to tighten up on energy and water usage, heating and hot water circulator pumps play a crucial role.

For building engineers and those with an active role in building management, a foremost consideration should be to understand a pump’s capabilities, as this will then determine how the pump can help offer insights into other building services. After that, there will be other factors such as the pump’s physical footprint, ease of installation, and maintenance, which will help contractors with fitting these products into existing spaces, ongoing preventative maintenance, and troubleshooting.

For more about Wilo and its range of heating and hot water circulator pumps for commercial building services, CLICK HERE!