Making an energy-efficient splash

This article was published in Building Review Journal Vol 29. No. 3 (May/June 2015).

Philip M. Rolchigo, PhD
Vice President of Technology
Pentair

Dr. Rolchigo joined Pentair, a global industrial company as Vice President of Technology in January 2007. With deep expertise in water and other environmental treatment technologies, he leads Pentair”s Global Research, Development and Engineering functions. Dr. Rolchigo has received 20 US Patents with 21 new US Patents pending. Till date, he has earned multiple industry awards for his outstanding product and technology innovation.

Condominium developments are springing up all over Singapore, the vast majority of which come with pool facilities. Pools and hot tubs can be a great addition to any lifestyle, and are an attractive prospect to potential tenants and buyers, but they require a lot of energy to run. “When you look at a residential building, commercial building, resort or spa, typically the second biggest consumer of energy in those facilities are the pools,” said Dr. Philip M. Rolchigo, Vice President of Technology in Pentair.

In an industry where there is more pressure than ever for developers and property managers to make energy-efficient decisions, what is the future of pools? During the recent Singapore International Water Week 2014, BRJ sat down with Dr. Rolchigo for an exclusive interview. He discussed how it is possible to reduce by as much as 90 percent the energy required to run a pool, as well as his expertise in water management and sustainability.

Could you tell us about yourself and your role in Pentair?

Rolchigo: I am head of technology and product development for Pentair. Pentair is a 7.5 billion dollar company and we have a variety of products that are targeted at the residential, commercial, infrastructure, food & beverage, energy and general industrial markets. The products range from advanced filtration and separation technologies to treat water and other processed fluids, to pumps that are moving those fluids around, to valves which control the distribution of flow paths of all those fluids… And another business that involves technical solutions includes manufacturing products that protect sensitive electronic and electrical equipment. In addition, we also cover thermal management control for process applications like refineries, oil & gas pipelines to make sure that temperature is maintained in these critical processes. The common theme of that business is protecting the important assets in the processing and manufacturing facilities.

Wow, you’ve covered quite a vast number of industries. So which industries do you think has the most potential within South East Asia?

Rolchigo: This is something that is really exciting about Pentair; I think all these industries are really important. If you look at the megatrends today that are driving growth around the world, it comes to the Water-Food-Energy Nexus, which is really going to be important to sustainable growth within South East Asia as well as across the world.  In all those markets, we develop products, and more importantly solutions, to solve problems at the intersection of food & water, energy & water, food & energy and then all those combined.

So, most of your products revolve around green technology?

Rolchigo: Yes. It is important to realize that the markets we are in see incremental innovations over time. Hence, we are always looking towards improving the performance of the products we have. One of the most important things we can do to make our products better is to make them more energy-efficient. Take our pumps for instance – we look at how to use more efficient motor technology, or how to engineer hydraulics so that the amount of energy it takes to move water, oil, or any other fluids is done more energy efficiently. Energy is a common component to everything that we do. Over time, all of our pumps have been improved in terms of energy efficiency. Be it for a pool, or a big pumping station for pumping water or waste water…energy is important! When you look at the filtration products, when we are developing new membranes to treat water in a residential unit, we always find ways to make that more efficient, to waste less water and to use less energy – all the way up to large waste water treatment plants that we might put in food & beverage facilities. We have interesting technologies whereby we can generate energy with the proper combination of microbiology in a waste water treatment plant and membrane technology. Energy recovered from the process can also be used. In addition, it creates a water source that is so clean, it can be reused within the facility. The bottom line is: everything we do is around improving the efficiency of the products – saving water, saving energy, and ultimately reducing that cost of delivering the solutions to our customers.

“By making the pump smart and improving all the technical aspects in a pump, we can save 90% of the energy.”

Pentair has developed a new pump that can save up to 90% of the energy consumed by pools. Can you share more on that?

Pentair IntelliFloXF (energy-efficient pump for pools, saving up to 90% energy)

Pentair IntelliFloXF (energy-efficient pump for pools, saving up to 90% energy)

Rolchigo: When you look at a residential building, commercial building, resort or spa, typically the second biggest consumer of energy in those facilities are the pools. It is because it’s moving, circulating and filtering that water all the time. So once you realize that “I need air-conditioning and I need heat”, the next biggest energy consumer is the pool. What we have done is to use high efficiency motors and improve their hydraulics…And then, one new thing, is making the pumps smart so that it would run optimally to filter the pool. If there’s a lot of traffic in the pool, you have to filter it more. If there’s not a lot of people in the pool, you don’t have to filter this much. If your filter is plugging, you have to change the way the pump is running. By making the pump smart and improving all the technical aspects in a pump, we can save 90% of the energy. That has been really exciting. Taking an application like the pool, which is typically not energy-friendly, it will really improve the energy efficiency.

How well received is this product in the market within South East Asia and what are the current projects that have already implemented this product?

Rolchigo: Well, I’ll start off from when we first introduced it in North America. We are very active in sitting on product councils. For instance – Department of Energy; EPA; Water Technology Council, so we can understand the needs of the market to help drive specifications and criteria for designing new technologies. So when we were developing this pump, we worked very closely with the Energy Department in California. Now we have the Energy Star rating on this pump. Our customers in California are actually getting rebates for the pumps, from some government support & incentives. This really helped drive the acceptance and adoption of the technology. Now we are using the same technology in a number of resorts in China. We sit on the Green Building Council in Singapore and we’re also working with the Singapore government to help understand why we need to start the right specifications around pool pumps which can help the local market here. We are selling variations of the same product here in South East Asia. It has become really widely accepted especially in resorts, where they have really beautiful pools and water features. Moving all that water is important to the aesthetics, but they are very energy intensive. Hence, this type of technology is really important to help improve the sustainability of those facilities.

What is the energy waste generated by a standard residential swimming pool as compared to an energy efficient one?

Rolchigo: A standard pool will use anywhere from a 3 horsepower to a 10 horsepower pump to move the water. If it’s running efficiently, you will use 3 or 10 horsepower. But if you reduce that amount of energy needed by 90%, a 10 horsepower pump will only use 1 horsepower. For most of the time, it will never go to 10 horsepower unless the filter is plugged and it needs to regenerate the filter. So you will see little spikes in time where it uses all that energy; but most of the time, it’s running at a lower energy, saving 90% of the energy.

“…it may cost them 25% or more for the initial installation, but within 1 year, they would recover from all the energy that they didn’t pay for.”

Energy efficient products generally cost more to install. So how would you justify the cost difference?

Rolchigo: By helping a customer understand that it may cost them 25% or more for the initial installation, but within 1 year, they would recover from all the energy that they didn’t pay for. It is a matter of teaching a customer that they have to look at the total cost of ownership for a long term. They are going to install a pump in a pool and run it for 10-15 years. Over these years, they could save a lot of money versus the initial investment. But in the early stages, that is where it was exciting to get rebates from California & other local governments. We needed to incentivize people and get enough history to illustrate to others that they will really save all that energy. It was really a combination of early adopter programs and the incentives to get enough credibility. Now, people are starting to understand and agree, “Yes! This is exciting.” “You’ve got hundreds and hundreds of pools that have this technology and are saving energy.” They believe in it and trust it, and they are willing to spend a bit more to save energy for the future.

How do you see re-creating a similar specification in South East Asia? Are there supporting incentives as well?

Rolchigo: I think there will be. So that’s part of the reason why we are on the Green Building Council here in Singapore. We are getting really great feedback and engagement from the council because they see the value. Soon, you will see similar models being developed as we start to work our way around South East Asia. We need enough early adopters to demonstrate the technology and savings. Then, little by little, you will not need the incentives because it will be a commonplace thing to do. We are excited about the opportunities.

“When you start to integrate technology at that level, you have to start at the ground floor when the building is being designed, in order to integrate all these potential things that we can do to greening a building.”

Which Pentair product or technology would you like to highlight to us?

Rolchigo: I think people are most interested in green buildings. The pool and water features are one area that is important. Well, we manufacture pumping systems that circulate water through all these commercial buildings. We are using the same innovative technology around controlling the pressure to save energy in these water re-circulating systems. So every place we ‘touch’ water, either moving through a building or filtering it in a building, we are applying the same kind of thinking around saving energy and making the process more efficient. The water body here in Singapore is fabulous. But you can even improve it a little bit more if you put filtration on it, for example, inside the building, for drinking or for cooking. We have a really broad range of products and technology that we use in food service application, and residential applications. But we have to make it really efficient and green. We are also looking at opportunities to capture rain water and recycling them within buildings and commercial settings. This is an exciting area because if you can capture the pure water that’s coming from the sky and store it, it can be used to supplement irrigating, or flushing toilets. When you start to integrate technology at that level, you have to start at the ground floor when the building is being designed, in order to integrate all these potential things that we can do to greening a building.

“…it’s not just one building that becomes independent. You are creating an eco-system of capturing storm water and then distributing it to the community.”

The surface areas of buildings are mostly high-rise in cities. It is not really large for harvesting purposes. How does this work?

Rolchiogo: This is one interesting area. These are ideas that we are starting to explore. The area of buildings is not large. But we have storm water sewers that are running through our cities. The waters just get collected, moved and goes back into the environment. So we started looking at storm water harvesting. Can you actually find ways within the urban settings to capture some of the storm water, treat it, and use it in multiple different buildings? In this way, it’s not just one building that becomes independent. You are creating an eco-system of capturing storm water and then distributing it to the community. Another interesting thing to implement is recycling the grey and black water that is generated in the building. It minimizes the impact on the sanitary sewer. We can then use that treated water in the toilets or for irrigation… That is another trend that we have started to notice in North America. More and more new commercial buildings are looking at that holistic approach to water.

Finally, what are your final thoughts on Singapore International Water Week 2014?

Rolchigo: Really exciting! What particularly strikes me about Singapore is the level of forward thinking and their ability to innovate and to think about the future, city and community, holistically. It has been inspiring to us as a company that always wants to push the edge and look towards the future. Moreover, it has been a really exciting and successful show. We are looking forward to coming back and continuing to build our business here.

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