Growing an industry

Increasing reliability to build trust and bankability

By Gabriela Ehrlich

IEC Global Visions recently interviewed Sandy Butterfield, Founding CEO and CTO of Boulder Wind Power, a small, venture-backed company that participates actively in the IEC. Butterfield is a pioneer in the wind industry. He talked about how IEC International Standards have allowed this industry to grow by helping manufacturers design more reliable machines and build the trust required to generate the necessary investment. Butterfield is the Chairman of TC (Technical Committee) 88: Wind turbines.

Participation as a strategic investment

Butterfield’s involvement in standardization predates the formation of Boulder Wind Power. When he became the CEO of the company, a precondition of continuing his role as chairman inIEC TC 88 was to demonstrate to his shareholders that this tenure was more than a mere expense but also represented a strategic investment. Venture-backed companies are hard-nosed entities, driven by economic concerns as well as by data. Butterfield was able to convince the shareholders that working within the IEC framework helps the company to understand the goals and needs of its customers better, as well as how its products will fit into the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) design process. More obviously, it also helps Boulder Wind Power to understand the standards better and to develop products more easily to fulfil certification requirements.

Easier access to global markets

Wind turbine manufacturers want to sell their products worldwide. They can’t possibly design them to accommodate a wide range of national standards. Through active participation in the standards process, Boulder Wind Power and other manufacturers can ensure that their proprietary technologies are taken into account. This also encourages harmonization because IEC Standards are the only common denominator in this industry.

More reliable machines

In their infancy, wind turbines were unreliable and had highly variable levels of performance. The machines started to improve when manufacturers started to test. That objective testing formed a part of the standards developed by the IEC. They provide a consistent set of measurements for performance and reliability and allow the industry to make objective comparisons of the performance and advancement of technologies and designs. Standards help to provide consistent data and build more reliable machines. They also provide the basis for conformity testing.

Building trust that results in investment

Standards have helped build stakeholder trust because they permit the objective comparison of different turbines. They have been key in reassuring the financial community and regulators that machines have been built to an objective third party process and that they have been reviewed according to rules agreed upon by the entire industry. 

Managing expectations

Standards have also provided the industry with a common vocabulary. Today, any sophisticated buyer, owner, operator or investor in the wind industry speaks in terms of IEC terminology: a wind class, a turbine design class, turbulence levels, and so on. Everybody understands what is meant. As a result, the conversation is more fruitful and constructive and expectations are met more accurately and readily.

IP is safe

Standards enable innovation and ensure that different designs and technologies are able to connect and interoperate seamlessly. Butterfield underlines that he has never worried that his IP (intellectual property) might be revealed.  Any standard that would allow such a thing is, in his opinion, simply not well designed.

Standardization’s strategic advantages: a learning curve

Butterfield readily admits that he didn’t immediately understand the advantages of standardization. At the start of his career, he and many of his peers believed that standardization was holding the industry back, that it constrained innovation and was not the path to provision of the most creative, reliable and lowest cost solution. When he founded his company in the 1980s, he started to realize that, without standardized criteria, technologies couldn’t advance and investment wouldn’t happen. Over time he also began to recognize the value of harmonization; that, far from holding back innovation, it gave the industry a more objective way of measuring the worth of its innovations.

Wind is everywhere

Butterfield is highly conscious of the environmental impact of our lifestyle and worries about what will happen to the planet if everybody uses fossil fuels to satisfy energy needs. “We just went past 7 billion people. Most countries have limited access to oil, gas, coal, and even hydro, but almost all have wind or solar. For many people in the world, wind energy is the cheapest form of energy available. Facilitating renewable energy is one of the key ways to foster sustainable growth. Wind energy will be a key component of that mix. It not only makes tremendous sense, it also represents a new economy.”

Sandy Butterfield, founding CEO and CTO... Sandy Butterfield, founding CEO and CTO...
...of Boulder Wind Power ...of Boulder Wind Power