Shape the Standards of an Open Off-Grid Energy Future
Oct 10, 2017
Chris Moller, Consultant Technology, Standards and Sustainability
In the Developed World, we largely take standards for our electricity supply for granted. We can go into town and buy any domestic appliance we can afford, bring it home, and be confident it will work when we plug it in. In the off-grid world, this isn’t true.
Recently, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has turned to this issue. The Geneva-based IEC is the international body responsible for electrical standards. At a committee meeting in May 2017, it was agreed that it would poll practitioners active in the field of off-grid electricity, to ensure that IEC activity is relevant to their needs, and to identify those areas where standards are most urgently needed.
Standards are often seen as a constraining influence, hindering innovation and enforcing a “lowest common denominator”. However, as long as off-grid electricity systems are ‘closed’ with only the appliances supplied with the electricity supply system, off-grid appliances will continue to be expensive small-volume items. As the upper power limit of Solar Home Systems edges towards 350Watts, it is going to be more and more difficult to constrain what users attempt to do with the electricity. When this happens, and if it happens without standardization, there will be a chaotic market, in which unsuitable domestic appliances are purchased and returned, and users’ expectations are frustrated.
For this reason, even if the products you are shipping today are closed systems including all appliances, it is important that you take part in shaping the standards for an open off-grid future. International standards take a long time to agree, and the standards we start to develop today will be shaping the off-grid electricity industry in five years’ time and beyond.
According to UN SDG#7 and the ESMAP Energy Tiers, by 2030 every domestic user beyond reach of the electricity grid should have electricity that is as versatile and dependable and affordable as on-grid electricity, where they can buy any portable domestic appliance they can afford, plug it in and turn it on, without having to worry about whether the breaker will trip or the battery run out. This can only be achieved through standardization.
In 2007, the IEC formed a Low Voltage Direct Current (LVDC) Systems Evaluation Group (SEG4) to assess the need for standards for low voltage DC, and in 2016 this was extended more generally to Standards for Electricity Access, to include all provision of electricity outside the grid network.
The SEC has now evolved into a Systems Committee, (SyC LVDC) which has members from a large number of national standards organisations (though it must be said that the Developing World is only poorly represented). SyC LVDC is able to talk directly to the Technical Committees that actually create standards, and to the Standardization Management Board (SMB) that can set up new Technical Committees.
GOGLA believes that it is important to at least start thinking about the issue of interconnectivity of solar power systems and appliances. GOGLA has been invited to join IEC SyC LVDC as a liaison organization; Chris Moller will represent GOGLA in this forum.