The challenge of the 21st century
The relatively recent demographic and economic growth of the world’s population started 200+ years ago and nowadays represents an immense challenge – especially in many developing countries – in terms of energy generation, transmission, distribution and management. Not to mention all the large investments in public transport infrastructure to fulfil the travel needs of an increasingly urban population.
There is also plenty of room to talk about sustainable food production, distribution and waste management, as well as ecological problems related to pollution, resource use, over-population, inadequate infrastructure and hygiene problems.
Cities are key
It is demonstrated that cities around the world hold the key to a smart and sustainable future for many reasons. One of the most important is that cities nowadays produce at least 70% of the world’s CO2 human emissions and they house around 50% of the world’s population. This last number will rise to 80% by 2050. Cities also play a dominant role in global consumption, production and pollution (Sukhdev, 2009).
It may seem that the milestones are still far away from our reach, so how can we help shape a smart and sustainable future from a standardization and conformity assessment standpoint?
The answer to this question comes in two parts:
- Energy efficiency
- Renewable energies
Energy efficiency – a perspective from Mexico
Each year, around 30% of the world’s electricity is wasted in net losses, heat losses, inadequate infrastructure, non-efficient (or old) residential, commercial and industrial equipment and other factors. Smart Grid is part of the solution to efficient energy management but a strong cooperation of different stakeholders such as government, manufacturers and population is also required to drive positive changes.
Energy-saving product exchange
Five years ago, in Mexico there was a national programme called “Cambia tu refri viejo por uno nuevo” (Change your old fridge for a new one) when 1,7 million refrigerators and 200 000 air conditioners were exchanged. This gave the most vulnerable, and not so vulnerable, Mexican population the opportunity to take advantage of governmental support to replace their old fridges and air conditioners for new, more energy-efficient ones. This programme was coordinated by several stakeholders – government, through its Energy Secretariat, the National Commission for Energy Efficiency Use, CFE – Utility and FIDE; the Environment Secretariat; and the Treasury Department; manufacturers, distributors and the public.
Which products participated in this programme? Only the ones that complied with International Standards such as the IEC 60335 series on safety for household and similar electrical appliances and the NOM for Energy Efficiency were included in this programme.
Lighting, screens, vehicles and more…
More recently, 42 million incandescent bulbs in residential buildings were replaced by energy-efficient lamps. It’s worth mentioning that electricity in Mexico is subsidized for consumers using under 250 kWh/month. This is a clear example of how, at a national level, standards help shape and drive a positive change towards energy efficiency in collaboration with other stakeholders.
There are also many other electric devices such as lamps, lighting towers, screens, vehicles, transportation and heavy duty machinery that nowadays are much more efficient than those of previous years. It is a demonstrated solid business case that the investment in new, energy-efficient equipment gives both consumers and industries a fast ROI and more than 50% of energy bill savings in a 10-year period exercise, using the new devices.
The need for smartness
Being efficient is not enough to secure sustainability. We need to realize that most of our energy is still obtained from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, gas and shale gas. The residues of our civilization are mainly greenhouse gases which certainly heat up our planet and contribute to the alteration of the water and carbon cycle – commonly known as climate change. Being efficient is an on-going evolution of technology and how we use it to optimize our energy consumption habits, but being smart is also to rely on energy from natural and renewable sources which do not impact negatively on the earth’s delicate balance.
There are many examples of countries which have adopted governance policies to foster large investments in renewable energies, such as Germany. Actually, only a few months ago during a series of sunny days and abundant winds, more than 70% (during a short period of time) of the electricity generated within the country came from existing photovoltaic and wind power infrastructures. It is also true that during these days the national grid was overloaded so additional measures had to be executed to secure the grid’s correct operation and the safety of the population.
The role of standardization
Standardization and conformity assessment provide four of the biggest assets for successful international trading: reliability, compatibility, quality and safety. These elements are vital to manufacturers of solar modules and inverters for they represent one of the fastest growing markets in the electrotechnical field. If there were no standards like IEC 61730, IEC 60904, IEC 62257, IEC 62446 or IEC 61727, the global compatibility, performance and safety of these devices would be virtually impossible to achieve in a safe, sustainable way.
It is the combination of Smart Grid, for energy management, and the use of renewable energies that will drive a sustainable urban transformation and make our energy consumption much more efficient. Also, the Internet of Things is a major actor that will involve even more the final consumers into this race for a sustainable future using smart energy.