By Lauren Urbanek, Natural Resources Defense Council
If you’re the owner of one of the 8 million pools in the U.S., you’re probably staying cool and refreshed during this summer’s record-breaking heat. But what may not be quite as fun is your electricity bill, which can be very expensive if you have an inefficient pool pump. An efficiency standard that takes effect in 2021 will help address this issue, but it doesn’t go quite far enough to make sure consumers reap savings for years to come.
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 costs each season (or more, if the pool is in operation year-round). But a lot of that money and energy is wasted. For a small number of hours each day, pool pumps need to operate at a high speed for mixing or cleaning, but most of the time they just need to circulate water through the filtration system at a low flow rate. An inefficient, single-speed pump simply runs at high speed all the time. Variable speed pumps can reduce energy use by about 70 percent relative to single-speed pumps, by operating at a lower speed when the pump is circulating and filtering water.
Starting in July 2021, there will be an efficiency standard for pool pumps that will provide savings of more than $2,000 for owners of in-ground pools who purchase new equipment. The savings are thanks to efficiency levels that take advantage of variable-speed technology. Pumps for small in-ground pools, pumps for above-ground pools, and pressure cleaner booster pumps can continue to be single-speed.
However, the pool pump standard currently has a loophole: it doesn’t address what happens when a pool owner replaces just the motor in their pump. Pool pump systems are comprised of a pump and a motor, with the bulk of the energy use coming from the motor. The motor on a pool pump will often fail before the pump itself needs to be replaced. Replacing just the motor is a common fix. Motors are generally interchangeable amongst many types of pumps, and there’s currently no standard for replacement motors. This means that consumers who purchase even the most efficient variable speed pool pump on the market could unwittingly end up with an inefficient single speed motor upon motor replacement, which would negate the benefits of the variable speed technology and immediately increase their utility bills by hundreds of dollars each year.
The good news is, we have a solution to this problem. A joint stakeholder proposal, submitted to the US Department of Energy (DOE) this week, will ensure that whether pool owners purchase an entirely new pump or replace the motor in their pump, they will benefit from energy savings. This proposal was the unanimous consensus result of nearly a year of negotiations between pool pump manufacturers, motor manufacturers, state government representatives, utilities, and efficiency advocates (including NRDC). It sets prescriptive standards that all pool pump motors on the market must meet, regardless of whether they are being sold with a new pool pump or as a replacement. This approach ensures that customers will realize the huge benefits of variable speed technology that are projected from the forthcoming 2021 pool pump standard, and also protects manufacturers who have already begun making significant investments to comply.
The next step is for DOE to adopt the stakeholder recommendations and issue a Direct Final Rule. All stakeholders have agreed that unregulated pool pump motors are a real problem, and we’ve come up with a solution that manufacturers, advocates, and other stakeholders agree to. It’s particularly important DOE keep the July 2021 pool pump standard compliance date and align the motor standards accordingly: delaying that date would leave the door open for states to set a patchwork of competing standards, leading to market confusion for customers and manufacturers.
Better pool pumps and motors mean cool savings for customers and protection for manufacturers. Go with the flow, DOE!