Powering the planet

Electricity is the modern lifeline

By Zoë Smart

Electric power is so much more than switching on a light bulb, and the havoc wreaked by hurricanes Irma and Maria in September was a stark reminder of this. 

Electric current passing between fingers Electricity, the modern lifeline

In the hurricanes’ immediate aftermath, nearly 7 million people in Florida and a number of Caribbean islands were left without electricity. More than a week later thousands of homes were still in the dark due to extensive damage to the electricity distribution system.

While taken for granted in much of the developed world, such events bring home the fact that so many services and daily activities rely on a constant supply of electric power. Without it, transportation, health-care facilities, communication and production, to name but a few, are brought to a halt.

Not only is electricity essential to much of our everyday lives, demand for it continues to rise and renewable energy sources such as hydro, wind and solar are being increasingly deployed as technologies become more efficient and more competitive. The intermittent nature of some renewables is, however, an issue for the stability of the electric grid. In this context hydropower provides excellent storage capacity with pumped storage installations pumping water into a high reservoir when electricity is abundant and cheap and releasing it to generate electricity at short notice.

The IEC has long been at the forefront of international standardization in the wind, solar and marine energy fields, an activity that culminated in the establishment of IECRE, the IEC System for the Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Renewable Energy Applications in 2013.

IEC is also leading efforts to promote the benefits of low voltage direct current (LVDC) through SyC LVDC, its new Systems Committee on LVDC and LVDC access. In an energy-hungry world, LVDC provides affordable, safe electricity access even to those who do not have access to the grid. 

Electric current passing between fingers Electricity, the modern lifeline
Puerto Rico before and after September 2017 blackout The Carribean island of Puerto Rico as seen from space before and after hurricane Maria (Photo: NASA)
The Hongrin dam, Switzerland The Hongrin dam near Col des Mosses, Switzerland, has a capacity of 52 million m3 of water (Photo: Alpiq)