Water scarcity and federal incentives are driving high-efficiency irrigation systems.
By Patrick Hogg
The groundwater and irrigation industries have their share of challenges, whether it be drought conditions threatening water supplies or energy costs to operate equipment continuing to increase.
Challenges, however, often come with opportunities, and groundwater professionals can look to federal legislation that will provide relief. This relief is coming in the form of federal funding to jump-start innovative development and increase irrigation infrastructure, and rebates for adopting new energy-efficient pumps and motors.
As part of two major legislations from the U.S. government—the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—federal funding will help electrify rural areas, manage water usage, and switch to high-efficiency pumping systems.
This is an opportunity to structurally change the groundwater and irrigation industries, not only in helping users use their water more efficiently, but also using less energy.
Through the IRA, the U.S. government is injecting $250 billion directly into the vein of high-efficiency pump products. The legislation is designed to stimulate and fund innovation, purchase, and supply U.S-sourced products that result in less energy consumption and smarter use of limited water resources.
This injection is aimed at key industries like irrigation that are the main lifeblood of pumping within the United States. Federal funding targets include:
- Approximately $10 billion focused on water conservation, water use efficiency, drought resilience, and stormwater infrastructure to mitigate flood damage.
- $4.5 billion for state-level rebate programs incentivizing adoption of new energy-efficient products.
- Almost $10 billion for rural electrification and to move from fossil fuels. This will increase the need for electrified pumps.
- $3.1 billion for Tribal communities focused on infrastructure and water management.
Smart Pumping Systems a Key Factor
One of the key elements revolutionizing irrigation is the development of higher-efficiency, “smart” pumping systems. These systems incorporate state-of-the-art technology like that of higher than NEMA-premium electric motors, variable speed, closed loop control systems, and overall demand response.
An example of actual application of this new technology is the increased adoption and installation of electronically commutated motors (ECMs) and integrated motors and variable frequency drives (VFDs) which are the heart of these smart pumping systems.
The implementation of intelligent pump systems into irrigation systems can not only minimize energy consumption but also simplify installation and maintenance procedures.
By harnessing cutting-edge technologies such as ECM technology, advanced sensors, real-time data analysis, and automation—these smart pumping systems can optimize water usage, detect anomalies, and adapt to changing conditions. They provide a dynamic approach to pumping, enhancing operational efficiency, and reducing environmental impact.
Overall connectivity to a system with the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms further empowers these systems to optimize irrigation schedules, considering factors that affect the demand of pumping systems like soil moisture, weather forecasts, or yield map integration.
These new connected systems offer the opportunity for predictive maintenance which can limit the downtime of pumping systems.
More Confidence for Investing in New Technology
Now with the focus the federal government has on energy infrastructure and energy use reduction, the pursuit of higher energy efficiency within the pump and irrigation industry has an effective pull-through method.
Prior to these legislative actions, those in the agricultural industry may have been apprehensive about increasing initial capital for a new technology or more intelligent drive system, but now with this support of funding, there are incentives to make decisions that focus on lifetime cost and overall energy savings over time.
However, this new push is not solely driven by economic benefits. As higher-efficiency standards are being formulated, the availability of new technologies enables a more sustainable future. By adopting these innovative systems, pump users can benefit from incentives and rebates offered by utilities and substantially reduce their carbon footprint.
To better support these initiatives, the IRA also has a provision for $47 billion to support manufacturing of these products—a driver for an innovation revolution. This provision will also help support localization of the supply chain.
The initial IIJA legislation had provisions for energy efficiency and infrastructure revitalization as well but required Build America Buy America requirements. This means that components for federally funded projects must be domestically sourced.
To help development and acceleration of the goal of both acts, these focused manufactured funds along with a few other pieces of legislation aim to increase U.S.-based manufacturing on components that make up energy-efficient products, such as semiconductors, lamination steel, and wire.
DOE Pushing Higher-Efficiency Pumps, Motors
Federal funding is not the only thing that is driving the adoption of higher-efficiency smart pumping within irrigation. Regulations from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are also continuing to push the minimum efficiency levels for many areas within the irrigation and groundwater industries.
Pump efficiency rules are being expanded. These rules include the continued expansion of the industrial and commercial pump rule. New induction motor standards are expected that will increase the minimum level of efficiency to “superpremium” levels on 100-250 hp industrial motors.
Soon, there will be an expansion of both the fractional horsepower motor rule as well as the integral horsepower motor rule to expand minimum efficiency to NEMA premium levels up to 750 hp and on additional motor enclosures.
To start expansion and standardization of pump system efficiency of the motor and VFD, otherwise known as the power drive system (PDS), new testing methods are expected to be published that will require motors to be operated on VFDs.
The publication of these test methods will allow the DOE to include efficiency requirements of the combined motor and VFD power drive system. This will also include regulations on many of the new technologies mentioned previously such as synchronous and electronically commutated motors.
Also, development of a test method for submersible motors will eventually bring submersibles into a standardized efficiency testing method to allow for industry-wide system comparisons no matter the type of pump.
Generous Incentives Propelling the Industry Forward
U.S. government incentives are propelling pumping, which is a key component of the groundwater industry, into a new era of sustainable resource management. With substantial funding and generous incentives, the industry is poised to invest in advanced technologies, particularly smart pumping systems, to achieve higher efficiency and conserve water and energy.
As higher-efficiency standards take shape, these groundbreaking technologies not only deliver immediate energy savings but also pave the way for future incentives and rebates. By leveraging the funding and innovation, stakeholders can lead and shape the future of the pumping industry, ultimately ensuring a more sustainable and resilient water supply for generations to come.
These opportunities have their hurdles, but the pumping industry is poised to launch into an innovative revolution that ends with sustainable systems that use a fraction of the energy.
Patrick Hogg is director of marketing for industrial pumping and distribution at Nidec Motor Corp. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA. He actively participates in National Ground Water Association events as well as industry standards organizations such as Hydraulic Institute and NEMA.