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Energy Efficiency in Equipment

Posted: April 20, 2011, 2:30 p.m., EDT

Retailers focus on educating aquarists and lowering the operating costs for the hobby.

By David Lass

Aquariums can be expensive to operate, especially if hobbyists are maintaining reef aquariums or other energy-intensive setups. In many cases, fishkeepers who start up a tank without anticipating the energy costs associated with operating the setup are prone to dropping out of the hobby eventually, which is a negative outcome for aquarists, retailers, manufacturers and the hobby in general.

Retailers can head off this problem through education and selling energy-efficient products to customers to help rein in operating expenditures.

“Along with [the] energy efficiency of operating an aquarium, we are concerned about energy savings in all aspects of our company and our products,” said Daniel Stopnicki, marketing and sales manager for Eheim North America in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec, Canada. “An important consideration, in addition to the operating costs, is the life expectancy of a product.”

The primary energy savings for hobbyists in the aquarium hobby comes from better pumps and lighting systems.

“Both pumps and lighting have come a long way,” reported Tim Plafcan, senior product manager for Instant Ocean in Blacksburg, Va. “The first magnetic drive pumps in the 1980s used less than half of the energy of old oiled shaft driven pumps. Then fluorescent was half the energy use of incandescent, and now LED is half that…good trend.”

Larger aquariums, such as this planted setup, may benefit from energy saving equipment and tactics.
Larger aquariums, such as this planted setup, may benefit from energy saving equipment and tactics.
Ethan Mizer/BowTie Inc.

In larger systems that use sumps, and especially in marine reef systems where water circulation is so important, energy use from the pumps can be significant.

“Our marine reef customers are the primary ones who are concerned with the operating costs of their hobby,” said Sean Fitzgerald, manager of The Fish Nook in Acton, Mass. “When it comes to water movement, the Koralias from Hydor are what we sell the most of.”

Two aspects of pump technology where there can be energy savings are in the magnets used and the power factor of the motors, retailers reported.

 “Our ‘Hy-drive’ technology is designed to be more efficient than the traditional magnet drive technology,” said Dr. Bill Minnick, president of Danner Manufacturing in Islandia, N.Y., maker of the PondMaster and ProLine lines of water pumps.
Dr. Minnick also pointed out that energy-efficient pumps have a higher initial cost for the consumer, but they have a long life expectancy.

“The magnet material in the impeller assembly is what gives better performance and energy savings,” said Neal Dulaney, president of Lifegard Aquatics in Cerritos, Calif. “On larger pumps, variable speed drives and spacing to dissipate heat are important.”

Aquatic Life’s pumps’ power factor ranges from 0.75 to 0.98, according to Mike Elliott,  co-owner of the Los Angeles-based company. Power factor is the efficiency with which an electrical device converts volt-amperes to watts; a value of 1 (“unity”) is best from an efficiency standpoint. Other pump manufacturers also stressed power factor.

“Sicce specializes in low wattage or amp usage, and our pumps have a power factor of 0.90,” said Ralph Cabage, head of Sicce USA in Knoxville, Tenn. “Our largest pumps are 0.99 power factor.” 

LEDs have paved the way toward more efficient lighting.
LEDs have paved the way toward more efficient lighting.
Sherri Collins/BowTie Inc.

In addition to pumps, energy savings can also be achieved with LED lighting systems.

“We really like the Ecoxotic LED products,” said Nick Evans, owner of Reef Culture in Tempe, Ariz. “They have a versatile and complete product line, and they are a great value at a fair price.”

Fortunately for the hobby, it is no longer true that LEDs are too expensive or an unproven technology, those in the industry reported.

“With any technology moving into a new market segment [LEDs for aquariums], you always see prices coming down as there are increased competitive pressures,” said Larry Schack, president of Sunshine Systems in Wheeling, Ill. “There is really no need to pay ridiculous prices for what is a very simple technology.”

Both retailers and manufacturers agreed that LEDs represent a great value now, and that the prices will continue to come down.

“We are doing a lot with LEDs, since lighting is such a big operating cost, especially for reef tanks,” said Bruce Davidson, owner of Sandy’s Pet Shop in Louisville, Ky.

Industry Voices

What opportunities exist for retailers to offer their customers energy efficient aquarium products?

“All of Eheim’s production and development is concerned with saving energy—not just in the operating costs of our products, but also in their production, packaging and distribution.”
—Daniel Stopnicki,
marketing and sales manager for Eheim North America in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec, Canada

“This is the year LEDs will become generally accepted. Prices are coming down, efficiency is going up. In two years, LEDs will be all that is sold for new tank setups.”
—Ike Eigenbrode, marketing
manager for Ecoxotic in Vista, Calif.

“Customers are concerned about operating costs, especially chillers. Energy savings, primarily from LEDs, are significant, and our customers always ask us how to on save operating costs.”
—Nick Evans, owner of
Reef Culture in Tempe, Ariz.

“Reef aquarists are really the only ones who care, as operating expenses can be huge for reefs. You can’t do much about heaters or filters, so we are looking to LEDs. I’m just not quite convinced they are ready for prime time.”
—Steve Vernon, owner of
MVPets in Portage, Mich.

“We try to show our customers how to save money by what we do in the store. We replaced almost all of the lights in our fish room tanks with LEDs. We went from 15 to 20 watts to 6 watts, and the fish look great.”
—David Kee, owner of Kee’s
Aquarium in Shelby Township, Mich.

“The main opportunity for the customer to be more energy efficient is in the marine hobby, especially the reef segment. The obvious place to start is lighting; metal halide or HQI fixtures are energy pigs, and can be replaced with T5 or LED systems.”
—Les Wilson, director of brand development for Marineland and Instant Ocean, both a part of United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va.

“Most of my customers are college kids or apartment dwellers that are always watching their budgets. Anything I can offer to save them money with their hobby is always appreciated.”
—Jim Gentile, owner of The Pet Shop in Allston, Mass.

Davidson added that the everyday savings from LEDs allows his customers to spend more on fish and other animals for their reef tanks. Cost savings is an important part of energy efficiency, for retailers and their customers as well as manufacturers.

“Staying closely tied to the advancements of the LED technology will continue to give hobbyists more light for less energy,” said Les Wilson, director of brand development for Marineland and Instant Ocean, both a part of United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va.

There is a “sweet spot” where price continues to fall and efficiency continues to rise.

“Price will go down when bigger volume of LEDs for other applications make them a commodity,” Evans said.

However, different parts of the hobby may respond differently to changes in technology. Some professionals in the industry are beginning to learn new things about the amount of light and color of light that reef inverts really need.

“The old ‘watts per gallon’ and need for actinic blue are being looked at very closely,” said Ike Eigenbrode, marketing manager for Ecoxotic in Vista, Calif.
David Kee, owner of Kee’s Aquarium Pets in Shelby Township, Mich., agreed and added that LEDs are performing in reef aquariums up to the standard set by metal halides.

“Not only is the price difference between metal halides and LEDs such as Ecoxotic narrowing all the time,” Kee said. “We are having great results using blue LEDs in the 450 to 460 nanometer range.”

There are different technical aspects of LEDs—as opposed to metal halides—that contribute to their energy efficiency. One example of the difference between the two types of lighting has to do with optics.

“With both our Double Bright and Reef Capable lines of LEDs, the optics are very important,” said Sean Raines, product manager for aquatic equipment for Tetra and Marineland, both a part of United Pet Group in Blacksburg, Va. “They help the LEDs that are housed underneath them to penetrate the water column deeper, driving the light to the bottom of the tank.”

This penetration, as well as the “shimmer effect” that reef hobbyists look for, can now be found in LEDs.

Another advantage of LEDs over metal halides is that dimming LEDs is not a problem, and it is very simple to make fixtures with whatever color temperature turns out to be the best.

“RGB technology—having red, green and blue in a single dimmable LED using pulse width modulation—is going to be very important,” Ecoxotic’s Eigenbrode stated.

Finally, LED intensity is relatively easy to ramp up, though there are costs to efficiency in doing so.

“There are many different types of LED emitters, ranging from 0.5 to 2 or 3 watts.” Schack said. “As you ramp up wattage, the efficiencies go down, but intensity and heat go up.”

As with most technical problems, it always comes down to trade-offs.

“Just as Europeans pay much more for gasoline than we do here in the U.S., so it is with electricity and other energy costs,” Stopnicki said. “Eheim is a German company, and we are very concerned about all aspects of being ‘green’.”


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