Russia still has the lowest rate of energy efficiency among all European countries, according to experts and has seen little recent progress. Potential savings on pumping equipment alone could reduce total energy consumption by up to 20% and save billions of dollars. But general inertia and a lack of expertise are conspiring against improvements. Here we examine the situation and investigate what is being done to improve it.

The housing sector, heating and the use of pumps for public utility are the “black hole” of the energy sector in Russia in the opinion of the market players.

This is primarily connected with the high level of corruption in the Russian housing sector. Also Russian authorities are usually not willing to admit to the problem of high energy bills and do not see any reason to modernise. This is compounded by a lack of energy specialists in the country’s housing sector.

The largest pump companies in the Russian market say high energy spends are usually connected with a lack of attention to the problem as well as an absence of knowledge about efficient operation of pumping equipment.

“Current practice indicates an extremely inefficient use pumping equipment in Russia, primarily in water supply. In particular, there are cases when the performance of the pumping system does not exceed 10-20%,” said Alexandr Kostuk, head of the Research and Advanced Development department of Russian company Specialist Pumps.

In Mr Kostuk’s opinion the low energy efficiency of pumps in Russia is connected a range of factors. These include installation with head and flow rates exceeding the requirements of the system; regulation of pump operation by throttling (via throttle valves) and deterioration of the equipment.

There are no statistics on the level of deterioration of equipment in the Russian water supply but the country’s housing services suggest that up to 55% of pumps should be replaced in the next six years.

Managers at the Russian division say the problem is a major concern because customers are not buying into the idea of buying new equipment and having their investment repaid in a couple of years through energy savings.

As a result, together with a pool of other well-known companies involved in energy savings, including Danfoss (automation, frequency converters), Velux (glazing), Rockwool (insulation), Arup (construction) and ETP (consulting) along with the support European banks, it is organising seminars on energy efficiency for regional municipal workers and administrations.

Wilo is another foreign pump manufactures experiencing low demand for energy efficient pumps. According to head of marketing, Lubov Stalnova, the company has experience of solving energy efficiency problems in Eastern Europe and now wants to influence the Russian market.

“One of the most striking examples of the modernisation of energy infrastructure was a project to reconstruct heating systems in Bucharest, Romania. An old heating system which had been operating in the city for 40 years was faltering. This led to nearly half a million people being forced to adjust temperature in their houses by opening and closing windows,” she explained.

“The system was inefficient and unreliable and required cost a lot to maintain. Wilo modernised the system by installing 2,000 pumps and more than 900 electronic control panels. As a result, energy efficiency was improved by up to 60%. And, importantly, for the past five years, the system has worked flawlessly.”

The current situation in Russia has much in common with the Romanian example. Wilo is negotiating with the Russian regional authorities about the implementation of similar projects, but has not yet had any success.

Representatives of Specialist Pumps also say Russian companies are usually looking for greater equipment capacity and are less interested in energy savings.

“There is a clear trend that consumers want to buy a pump capable of delivering a certain pressure and with a more powerful motor. But during operation this can lead to overloads,” said Mr Kostuk.

“And when the consumer faces this problem he usually has the desire to replace the pump with another one - with even higher pressure and a more powerful motor and the result will remain the same.”

Grundfos believes this problem can be solved by using a traceability system which will show the customer the pressure and energy spends on the system in a certain period of time. Such an approach has a good psychological effect, as the customer can see all spends and savings with their own eyes. This system should be installed along with sensors and frequency control mechanisms which make it possible to adjust operation to the current needs of the system.

"With the use of energy efficient motors potential electricity cost savings amount to 7% while the use of frequency control motor raises this figure to 30%. The use of an electronic control system as a whole generates savings of up to 60%," said Mr Presnov.

Some manufacturing sectors of the Russian economy have focused on energy efficiency, particularly oil and gas which remains the basis of the country’s economy.

In November 2014, Alnas, part of the Riemer group of companies, has announced that it has developed a new pump motor which will reduce the energy consumption of oil extraction by 25% on average. The new pump motor has been developed specially for one of the largest Russian oil producing company, Rosneft and its division Stavropolneftegaz.

"The new equipment has been specifically designed for the requirements of Rosneft-Stavropolneftegaz,” said Alnas executive director Sergei Sachenko. “We expect the new equipment will allow the company to reduce energy consumption in oil extraction by more than 25%.”

Lukoil Company, the other major supplier of gas and oil in Russia, has also announced a significant improvement in the energy efficiency of its businesses, which has also been achieved with the purchasing and installation of advanced pumping equipment.

At the beginning of 2014 it was reported that over the past three years, the average energy efficiency of the company’s pumping systems improved by about 12-15%.

The company also says that since the introduction of the modernised system of oil pumping, productivity has increased by 400m³ / hour, an increase of 25%. The company is actively introducing pumps with electric motors with valve actuators that have higher efficiency and can significantly reduce energy consumption.

The same situation has been recorded in other industries such as chemical, pharmaceutical, pulp and paper and mining.

“These are industries with large companies that have a turnover of several millions dollars. They have good margin, but the rise in competition or a drop in prices for products has forced them to cut costs. So they are trying to save money on fuel, raw materials and energy,” said Andrei Volkov, head of Russian pumps distributor Nasosy.

He added that officials often pay little attention to improving energy in the housing sector, while small companies do not recognise the economic feasibility or simply don’t have funds for energy saving technology.

But the Russian authorities say the situation with energy savings in the housing sector is not as bad as foreign experts believe.

“We repeatedly hear these terrible figures which foreigners from time to time are demonstrating to our people. In fact, the reality is not so depressing,” said Associate Professor of the Moscow Energy Institute, Eugene Gachot, who has been working on a project of audit and modernisation of Moscow’s municipal heating systems.

“We did the calculation in Moscow. It turned out that the losses in heating systems amounted only to 5-7% and energy consumption per square meter of housing for example in Scandinavian countries is above our rates.”

At the same time, according to Mr Gachot, the problems of energy loss in heating systems or water supply systems of housing is not fully connected to pumps.

“At least half of this problem is connected with the "overheating" that has less to do with the original quality of buildings or infrastructure, but their current state. Often the bottleneck in the system is caused by choked pipes which result a reduction in the heat transfer coefficient. After washing out the pipes, the situation becomes normal,” he added.

Mr Gachot also does not believe foreign pumps have a better level of energy efficiency.

"The pumps [of foreign manufacturers] are obviously good. Compared with Russian pumps they have better electronics and better bearings. Nevertheless, I don’t think there is a huge gap.

Domestic pumps with domestic frequency regulation give approximately the same energy saving as the foreign analogues but at half the price. Replacing old pumps with new, whether domestic or foreign, reduces power consumption by 50%, heat loss by up to 45% and hot water consumption by up to 50%.

“At the same time heating problems are very individual. Sometimes it is better to install imported pumps, others domestic, but more often the problems do not concern pumps at all.”