ISO and the IEC – a user’s guide

1 August 2007

Emerging technologies bring the need for new technical standards. Keith Nuthall provides a run-down of the functions of key technical committees, and news on the formation of fledgling TCs to cover renewables.

The power generation industry has always been a globalised business, especially in the manufacturing sector, and is becoming increasingly so with the opening of national electricity markets. As a result, the need for common standards and practices, relevant to the industry, its suppliers and its customers, is becoming more and more important.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a key global body co-ordinating and publishing this kind of professional advice for the power generation, transmission and distribution sectors, along with its sister body the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), both of which are based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Unusually for international organisations, their remit is entirely to assist the performance of businesses, industries and professions for whom they issue guidance. There is no other agenda here – for example, forcing a sector to adopt environmental or liberal free market policies against its will. Indeed, relevant industry members are always closely involved in drawing up standards, which are designed to encourage companies to work according to best practice and in compatible ways, helping co-operation, trade and distribution. In both organisations the bulk of their standard development work is co-ordinated by technical committees of experts drawn from round the world.

Generation sector

A key body of particular relevance to the power sector is ISO’s technical committee TC 203 on technical energy systems. It aims to provide assessments that compare a range of electricity production systems, including renewables and fossil fuels, taking into account their performance, cost and environmental footprint. Of course, because of energy security concerns and global warming, such calculations are highly popular among policy-makers trying to back a particular energy horse, and this committee’s suite of standards are being developed so that such choices can be made as rationally as possible. The committee’s business plan says ‘It is a need to be able to compare widely different energy options. This has proved to be a great difficulty, as can be seen from the ongoing debates over – for example – wind power, large hydro power, nuclear power, electric heating, and co-generation of heat and electricity.’

An ISO committee important for renewables is TC 180, solar power, which has produced 17 standards. Three of these cover key basic issues affecting this sub-sector: testing preformed rubber seals and sealing compounds used in collectors; elastomeric materials for absorbers, connecting pipes and fittings; and a guide to material selection with regard to internal corrosion in solar-power water heating systems, which are key focus of this committee.

There is a range of standards developed for the nuclear power industry byTC 85, nuclear energy. Some of its standards that cover the basics of this sub-sector’s work, such as ISO 6258:1985 on designing nuclear power plants against potential seismic hazards, or ISO 2855:1976 on radioactive materials packaging, and testing for radiation leaks, are of crucial importance. As is usual with ISO, there is a standard on definitions in the sector (ISO 921:1997), which helps operators from different regulatory regimes work together when they need to. Similarly, there is a standard for nuclear power data exchange – ISO 6527:1982.

And there are also relevant standards developed for the testing and handling of fossil fuels, of use for sold fuel, natural gas and oil-fired power plants. For this the committees are TC 27 on solid mineral fuels; TC 28 on petroleum products; and TC 192 on gas turbines, whose range of standards include ISO 2314:1989/Amd 1:1997 for combined cycle power plants.

ISO is not only about industry-specific standards, it also has generic management standards that can be used by any industry or service, public or private. Many innovative organisations have long used the ISO 9000 quality management standards to improve their performance and another key series of standards here are the ISO14000 environmental management systems, designed to help organisations of all types improve their environmental performance while boosting their business results.

Electricity standards

Electricity sectors are covered by the specialist ISO-like body offering standardisation and best practice services, namely the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Its standards cover all electrical, electronic and related technologies, including electronics, magnetics and electromagnetics, electroacoustics, multimedia, telecommunication, and energy production and distribution.

As with ISO, the IEC’s standard development work is carried out by technical committees and sub-committees (see It also has standards that can be applied by a number of electricity-based industries as well as standards that are more specialist in their approach.

Many power industry members will find useful and expert advice on electrical topics generally in the standards developed by the IEC committees on overhead lines, power transformers, electricity supply systems, switchgear, cables and electromagnetic compatibility. These are written in English, French and Spanish and are also available in several other languages, which should increase their usefulness for many larger power companies.

Key committees here include the IEC’s TC4 on hydraulic turbines, which has produced 43 standards and guidelines, including different language versions of the same advice. As usual for the IEC, these are dominated by model technical specifications for particular pieces of equipment, for instance pump turbines, storage pumps, Pelton turbines, and others. But there are also standards on nomenclature, tests, maintenance, operation, and other key issues. Other important IEC technical committees for the power generation industry include TC5 on steam turbines, which has created seven standards, such as those on measuring airborne noise, verification tests for retrofitted steam turbines and guidelines on ensuring steam purity. And there is an over-arching committee, TC1, on terminology concerned with creating common definitions and terminology affecting the generation and use of electricity.

There are technical committees for specific types of power generating technologies, such as TC88 on wind turbines, whose mission statement says it aims to prepare international standards covering ‘design requirements, engineering integrity, measurement techniques and test procedures ... The standards are concerned with all subsystems of wind turbines, such as mechanical and internal electrical systems, support structures and control and protection systems.’ It has issued 24 standards and guidance notes. Similar committees have been established for solar photovoltaic energy systems (TC82), fuel cell technologies (TC105) and the nuclear power industry (TC 45 on nuclear instrumentation and its related sub-committee on the control of nuclear facilities SC45A). This kind of work – especially as regards renewable energy – is only going to increase. The IEC is currently recruiting experts to develop a fresh set of standards for wave and tidal energy technology, which it said in a report would ‘help establish this promising source of renewable energy as a competitive form of electrical energy production’. A new technical committee will be created ‘on marine energy – wave and tidal energy converters.’ The report said that creating global standards for this emerging technology would ‘help bring down technology costs to make [this kind of] renewable energy increasingly competitive with existing energy alternatives, while ensuring the transfer of expertise from traditional energy systems.’

Furthermore there are useful standards developed by the technical committees affecting key transmission issues, such as those on overhead electrical conductors (TC7); overhead lines (TC11); electrical energy measurement, tariff and load control (TC13); power transformers (TC14); switchgear and controlgear (TC17); power capacitors (TC33); and electromagnetic compatibility (TC77). A fifth edition of the IEC’s key standard for low-voltage switchgear and control gear (IEC 60947-1) for rated voltages not exceeding 1000V AC or 1500V DC was released in June. There are also a range of standards dealing with a wide variety of electrical consumer products and associated electrical issues.

So there is plenty of advice available at ISO and the IEC, but sadly, as neither organisation is directly funded by taxpayers, they charge for copies of their standards. These don’t come cheaply, sometimes running to hundreds of Swiss Francs, but they are usually at least affordable to medium or larger sized companies. Standards can be bought in hard copy or digital downloadable format from the detailed websites of both ISO and the IEC.

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