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Under the pump: How modern circulator pumps contribute to better energy efficiency in light commercial buildings

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Specifiers and building services consultants are increasingly being asked to upgrade inefficient old heating and hot water circulator pumps as the push toward Net Zero continues. David Williamson, Sales and Marketing Director from Wilo UK looks at what to consider when selecting light commercial pumps and how innovation in these products is revolutionising building energy strategies.

Across much of the UK’s existing building stock, there will be heating and hot water circulator pumps that are old, use highly inefficient AC motors, work at one speed only, and operate in silo to other building services.

Comparing these to newer pumps is almost like apples to oranges. Whether it’s in efficiency, performance, functionality, ease of use, installation or maintenance, old pumps are worlds apart from modern alternatives. Building owners, managers and those with responsibility for running buildings are recognising this, and with the continual journey toward Net Zero, many are now seeking to upgrade these vital building services solutions to make them smarter.

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.

EC technology and variable speeds

With lots of innovation in recent years, heating and hot water circulator pumps today have many capabilities. Arguably, one of the biggest breakthroughs in this space is electronically commutated (EC) motor technology.

For perspective, switching from a circulator pump with an AC motor to one with an EC motor provides an immediate 30% reduction in energy use. Alongside the EC technology, many of these newer pumps have variable speed drives onboard, and when coupled together with controls, pumps can become much ‘smarter’ in operation. This allows them to work at lower speeds too, 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.

Pumping ‘big data’ into building energy strategies

While new buildings will generally be more energy efficient due to better design and materials, 80% of buildings that will be standing in 2050 have already been built, according to The Climate Group.

Therefore, the biggest opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and energy usage lies within upgrading legacy building services. However, while this may sound counterintuitive to knocking buildings down and starting over again, introducing smart products into buildings especially as part of a retrofit upgrade can actually provide the owner visibility of the performance of the building.

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.

Thinking long-term

Along with immediate energy savings, pumps can also be used to help define an ongoing energy usage strategy. Performance data can 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.

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. People with water meters typically use 25% less water than unmetered accounts.

It should be noted that even in new buildings, many of the operating characteristics are ‘over specified’ to allow for margins. In many ways, retrofitting a pump is a somewhat better solution, as specifiers can size and match pumps based on the building’s actual day-to-day requirements.

Taking a smarter approach

Heating and hot water circulator pumps play a crucial role in many buildings and are particularly important in commercial applications where there’s a real need and drive to tighten up on energy and water usage.

One of the first and foremost considerations is understanding 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, troubleshooting and maintenance.

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