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The following article was published in ASHRAE Journal, November 1998. Copyright 1998 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. It is presented for educational purposes only. This article may not be copied and/or distributed electronically or in paper form without permission of ASHRAE.

Proper Control of HVAC Variable Speed Pumps

By Larry Tillack

James B. Rishel, P .E.

Life Member/Fellow ASHRAE

he advent of the variable speed pump has prompted the formation of many new procedures for operating hot water, chilled water and condenser water systems. The variable speed pump has reduced the over-pressuring of water systems and reduced pump maintenance caused by the excessive radial thrust often found in constant speed pumps. Often, energy consumption by variable speed pumps is a fraction of that of constant speed pumps. However, most of these advantages are lost when proper speed control is not maintained in variable speed pumping systems. Variable speed pumps have been used successfully since around 1967 in the HVAC industry. In the 1970s, they became popular with the development of the variable frequency drive. The variable frequency drive simplified pump speed control by using a digital control for speed regulation instead of a mechanical device. It became apparent that specific control requirements were necessary to achieve successful operation of variable speed HVAC pumps. Some of these requirements are: 1. Variable speed pumps operated in paral- Figure 1: Location of differential pressure transmitters on hot and chilled lel have to be operated at the same speed. water, variable speed pumping systems. Therefore, one control parameter is required to operate a set of pumps running in parallel. A current require- lems result from a lack of control of individual pump speed. 2. A requirement that has proven necessary is that differential ment for successful variable speed operation is that all 1,780rpm pumps run within 20 rpm of each other. If the pumps do not pressure, pressure or flow sensors that regulate pump speed run within 20 rpm of each other, they will operate at less effi- must have their calibration traceable to the National Institute of cient points on their curve. Too often, system operating prob- Standards and Technology (NIST). This is the only specification that guarantees that the quality and reliability of these instruments is adequate for HVAC pump speed control. About the Authors 3. The most successful method of varying the pump speed Larry Tillack works at Systecon in electrical design engineering to suit the demands of the water system, from minimum to maxifor HVAC control systems. mum load on that system, is to properly use a differential pressure transmitter that is located in the chilled or hot water sysJames (Burt) Rishel, P.E., is chairman of Systecon. He is Retem. The actual location of the differential pressure transmitter search Subcommittee chair of ASHRAE Technical Committee will be described in the next section and in Figures 1 through 3. 8.10, Pumps and Hydronic Piping and is author of two books. Since the differential pressure transmitter often is located at
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Figure 2: Proper location of differential pressure transmitter. The differential pressure transmitter at pumps must be set at 100% design head, eliminating the value of the variable speed pump.

the end of long loops where water hammer can be damaging, the casing design pressure for the instrument should be 2,000 lbs (8900 N) working pressure. 4. A great advantage of using the differential pressure transmitter is that the actual operating pressure maintained at the various points in the system is indicated on the system PC. Any excess pressure developed by the pump control system is immediately known, because the PC can display the setpoint and the actual pressure, the difference being the excess pressure. If the pump speed control is operating properly, the difference between the setpoint and the actual pressure should not be more than 0.75 to 1 ft of pump head at the controlling differential pressure transmitter. Such control of the differential pressure eliminates energy loss rated by widely varying the differential pressure. 5. The rate of response for the PID loop or DDC feedback control must be fast enough to avoid hunting for the pump speed. More than thirty years of experience with hundreds upon hundreds of HVAC systems has proved that a rate of response of 500 ms (twice per second) is adequate for most HVAC applications. This is a standard for commercially available PID loops and is not considered very fast in the control industry. This will be discussed further under Rate of Response. 6. A nagging problem about variable speed pump control is that the building management system (BMS) computer is often loaded down with critical functions. This computer (or computers) is monitoring much more than just the water management system. This often means that the water management system receives a low priority for useful bandwidth on the computer network. As a result, signals buffered through a BMS computer may not be updated in a timely or reliable (meaning at the same time interval) manner. This requires the differential pressure
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signals to be wired directly from the transmitter to the pump speed controller. These six parameters have proved to be indispensable in achieving a successful and efficient HVAC variable speed pumping system.

Location of the Differential Pressure Transmitter The differential pressure transmitter must be located at the point in the water system that will remove the variable friction head from the control signal. The location of this transmitter is, therefore, dependent upon the piping used to connect the heating or cooling coils. Figure 1 describes the connection for direct and reverse return loops. The reverse return loop requires a differential pressure transmitter on each end of the loop, particularly on long loops where there may be as much as 50 ft (15 m) of pipe friction in the loop itself. Figure 2 illustrates the need to remove the variable friction from the control signal. This is the reason why the differential pressure transmitter must be located at the far end of the direct return piping loop. Use of Valve Position to Control Pump Speed Attempts have been made to use coil control valve position as a means of controlling pump speed. It is questionable whether this procedure insures that the pumps are operated at the most efficient speed. Figure 3a demonstrates that there is no valve position that is indicative of the total head generated by the pumps. Figure 3b demonstrates that valve position can be a valuable tool for reducing the differential pressure maintained at the differential pressure transmitters. The BMS adjusts the differential pressure transmitter setpoint with control valve position. If any control valve is fully open, the setpoint might
November 1998

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be 25 ft (8 m); if all valves are at least 50% closed, the setpoint could be 15 ft (4.5 m), and if all valves are near to the closed position, the setpoint could be 10 ft (3 m). The valve position/setpoint program would be developed for each chilled or hot water system.

Rate of Response One question that always arises when dealing with variable speed pump control, specifically through the use of PID controllers, is How fast does the process value have to be updated? The best answer for this question is twice per second or faster. The reason is that the pressure in a system changes instantaneously, and the controllers function is to maintain that pressure at a setpoint. From a simplified interpretation of the Nyquist Criterion 1 for stable control, a controller must update approximately twice as fast as the fastest process that it is trying to control. In our case, pressure imparted by the pumps changing speed can be realized in the system within one second. This means that the controller must update at least twice per second to maintain stable control, and the inputs to the controller must be updated at the same rate or faster than the output of the controller. Therefore, the inputs must be updated twice per second or faster to maintain stable control. For the typical pump speed PID application, the system can be expected to settle between 10 and 20 seconds from the time any upset is introduced (this may take slightly longer at system startup). The typical application consists of a PID controller with an update (response) rate of twice per second and a process value that updates at the same rate. This typical response can be seen in Figure 4a. The system will actually run slightly over its setpoint and then be brought back to the correct operating point. This is normal because the controller will continue to increase the speed of the pumps until it receives feedback from the system indicating that the pumps need to be slowed. This is a small price to pay for such a rapid response. When the process value is not updated in a timely manner the PID response becomes unstable. This can be seen in
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Figure 3a: This diagram shows the problem of using valve position for pump speed control.

Figure 3b: This diagram shows differential pressure reset with control valve position.

Figure 4b. In this case the PID controller is still updating its output twice per second, but the process value is only being updated once every twelve seconds. In classic control theory it is demonstrated that sometimes a fine line exists between a good feedback controller and a good oscillator. The phenomenon that is happening here can be explained best by an example. Suppose that a man is placed in a field and that this man has no way of judging any distance he moves, but travels about

4 fps (1.2 m/s). Now the man is told that he needs to move 20 ft (6 m) and once he starts moving he cannot stop until commanded to do so. The man starts moving and is not given the command to stop for twelve seconds. This means he has moved 48 ft (15 m), which is 28 ft (8.5 m) past his destination! Now, he is given feedback telling him that he is 28 ft (8.5 m) from his destination and he starts on his way. He again travels 48 ft (15 m), putting him back to where he started! This cycle will continue indefinitely,
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PID Controller Response

Figure 4a: Typical PID response, output and process update twice per second. Figure 4b: PID where output is updated twice per second, but process is updated once every twelve seconds. Figure 4c: PID where output and process are both updated once every twelve seconds.

creating a nice oscillator, but a poor controller. While this may seem extreme, systems like this can happen and the blame is usually attributed to variable speed pumping instead of to the real culprit, unreliable (slow) update from the process value. One possible solution to this problem of oscillation would be to slow down the PID response to match the update rate of the process value. Doing this will create a nice stable controller. The problem is that it takes a long time for the pumps to reach their proper operating speed. If there is concern for the efficiency of the system, this is not a good solution. In addition, if any equipment in the system relies on fast stabilization (such as chillers), this is definitely undesirable. The response of such a system can be seen in Figure 4c. Suppose that this theory is applied to the man in the field. However, now he can take only one step towards his destination every twelve seconds. While he will eventually reach his destination and maintain his position, it will take him several minutes to arrive there. Although this solves the problem of an oscillating controller, it is not the best solution. Due to the dynamics of the pressure in the system, the PID controller really needs to update its calculation at least twice per second to provide proper control of the system. With all of the control knowledge extant in our industry,
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there is no excuse for poor control of HVAC variable speed pumps. A bad control system can cost as much as a properly designed system. The differential pressure at the controlling differential pressure transmitter should not vary more than 0.75 of 1 ft of pump head. Any fluctuation above this can result in over-pressuring the system and an increase in the pump energy consumption.

Reference 1. Phillips, C. L. and R. D. Harbor. 1988. Feedback Control Systems, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, p. 288.

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