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IEC Introduces "Renewable and Alternative Energies Zone"

Awareness of Global Warming and the Disadvantages of Foreign Dependence Lead to Heightened U.S. Interest

New York, Jul 15, 2002

Concern for the environment and a heightened awareness of the limited nature of fossil fuel supplies has led to an ever-increasing world-wide interest in developing alternative sources of energy. With the recent addition of the "Renewable and Alternative Energies Zone" to its website, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has committed itself to the alternative energy effort. ANSI is the national member body to the IEC via the U.S. National Committee.

Standards in the alternative energy production fields are vitally important and knowledge and technology in this area is continually growing and improving. IEC's Zone provides information on the organization's work in renewable alternative energies with sections devoted to water, solar, fuel cell and wind energy production. A description of each energy source as well as information about the IEC Technical Committee (TC) devoted to standardization in that area and short summaries of the TC's present and future projects is also included. In addition, the Zone provides listings of the IEC standards that are currently available related to each energy source and those that are under development.

Standards allow the newest technologies to be marketed worldwide and also provide a benchmark for certification systems. IEC 61400-24, Lightening Protection is the newest document for alternative energy sources to emerge from IEC; it was published on July 11, 2002 by TC 88, Wind Turbine Systems.

A wind turbine is a modern version of the windmill, a tool that people have been using to harness the wind's energy for over 2000 years. As early as 200 B.C., the Chinese were using simple windmills to pump water. They were used by Middle Eastern cultures for food production by the 11th c., when the technology was brought to Europe and adopted by the Dutch for draining lakes and marshes. In the 19th c., American settlers also used windmills to pump water and eventually to generate electricity.

Though more technologically advanced than its ancient brother, the wind turbine is built upon the same basic principle. Two or three blades are attached to a rotor, which is attached to a shaft, which is connected to a generator. When wind hits the blades they spin the rotor, which in turn spins the shaft, thus turning the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical energy. The shaft then uses its mechanical energy to spin the generator, which produces electrical energy (electricity).

IEC TC 88 has published the leading body of standards for wind turbines known as IEC 61400, which currently has parts that cover everything from safety requirements to performance testing and now lightning protection.

Though many standards related to alternative energy have been developed in the international arena, there has been a renewed interest in alternative energy standardization in the U.S. as well. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), an ANSI member and ANSI-accredited standards developer, revised its standard ANSI/ASME PTC 42-1988, Wind Turbines, in 1998, and further updates are expected in the near future.

George Osolsobe, a project engineering administrator at ASME, explained what he believes are two main reasons for this renewed interest: "After September 11, there was a greater recognition of our need to rely on our own sources of energy. Sources of oil in the Middle East are subject to various upheavals in that area of the world, so any type of energy we can generate here ourselves is always a good proposition."

Osolsobe added that on a broader scale, the recognition that global warming does exist has been key to the heightened interest in alternative sources of energy. "We have photographic evidence that glaciers are retreating due to record high temperatures. Since fossil fuels are involved with this warming by way of greenhouse gasses, a greater emphasis is being placed on finding sources of energy that don't accelerate the warming process."

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