I was delighted to take part recently in the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) annual Aid for Trade Global Review. Following is a summary of my speech about the role of international standards in helping countries seize the trade opportunities from the clean energy transition.
Standards are not perfect, but they do reflect known best practices. They provide minimum safety levels, performance levels, interconnection levels and compatibility levels.
Standards create value, but the highest value comes from the combination of standards and conformity assessment. The IEC Conformity Assessment Systems are a framework of common rules and methodologies that ensure consistent and comparable conformity assessment results from anywhere in the world.
Conformity assessment is used to check that the requirements have been met for goods and services. IEC relies on professional bodies to carry out all the testing and certification, which is very similar to the way in which the IEC develops standards.
In developing countries, economic development and progress is strongly linked to electricity access. Renewable energy is a good investment to provide access to electricity in remote and off grid areas.
Although renewable energy projects are long term investment projects, the payback to the local economy can be very fast and sustainable. That’s why clean energy is at the heart of almost all of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
One of the most interesting questions I was asked at the event was how the IEC ensures that standards in the renewable energy area do not themselves become obstacles to trade. I simply reminded the delegates of how things used to be.
For consumers, there was much less choice of suppliers. Product and service costs were higher and devices didn’t connect together.
Manufacturers had to build the same products to different standards. Since they could not deliver economies of scale, prices were higher and they had greater difficulty entering foreign markets.
IEC International Standards and the IECRE global conformity assessment services are trade facilitators that bring benefits to consumers and end users. Together these serve as world’s best practices for the management of risk by governments and investors who are funding renewable energy projects.
Without this financial risk management there would be less investment, as well as slower development and economic progress. For example, a wind farm with hundreds of wind turbines will need to be maintained over the life time of the installation. This can be 30 years and more.
When the components in the wind turbine need to be replaced, the fact they are built to international standards means their replacement parts can come from suppliers in many different parts of the world. Of course, this only works if the suppliers have built their components to the international standard and those components have been tested and certified.
Combining international standards with conformity assessment is win-win. It gives the owner of the wind farm the choice of which supplier to use for replacement parts and the supplier of replacement parts gets access to a truly global market.