With the world open to trade through global commerce, global manufacturing, advanced communications, easier distribution of goods and services, governments increasingly collaborating in clean energy technology research and development, promotion and deployment, it is recognised that standards and a harmonised approach to renewable energy, along with certification, is an important aspect of developing and increasing the uptake, awareness and confidence in the market, which in turn supports the climate change mitigation agenda.
“Technologies that fail due to poor quality or poor execution create a negative association in the minds of consumers and damage the market.” This is the opening sentence on the chapter on standards, in the recently published United Nations Foundation, Energy Access Practitioner Network report – Towards Achieving Universal Energy Access by 2030.
Well written standards have an important role to play in supporting communication and understanding, trade and commerce, legislation and regulation, environmental protection, enhanced resource efficiency and confidence in the products and services provided. However, standards can also potentially be barriers to the above if written poorly, biased to one set of stakeholders’ requirements, or if their requirements restrict the ability to innovate or deploy and trade the technologies or services.
As standards are usually established on a consensus and broad stakeholder basis, in some cases they may represent minimum, or even sometimes sub-optimum, quantitative or qualitative thresholds (e.g., quality, performance, and sometimes safety) rather than the maximum threshold (Ottinger, R.L., Experience with Promotion of Renewable Energy: Successes and Lessons Learned – Parliamentarian Forum on Energy Legislation and Sustainable Development, Cape Town, South Africa). However, what are considered minimum thresholds in one region or sector may be too high or low for another.
Therefore it is generally very difficult to establish appropriate global standards that meet all the push-and-pull of different stakeholder needs. This is especially true if the engagement process has been limited to a few individuals or stakeholder groups.
Therefore, how well standards are integrated into renewable energy activities across different sectors is of critical importance. It is also important to note that standards in themselves may or may not be adhered to, and if no certification, verification or auditing process is in place, it may be difficult to determine if the standards have made any significant impact.
Much of the discussions in the political arena about standards appear to be about setting “minimum requirements”, or “a standard”, or in some cases “avoiding setting minimum requirements”. These requirements are possibly more effectively described as “threshold values or criteria” (For further discussion and examples of how threshold values have been used, see section – How standards are used.).
By setting threshold values or criteria, a product’s performance, an organisation’s service(s), amounts of energy used and hence energy saved, carbon emissions, or other metrics, can be measured and evaluated over time. Many standards will incorporate thresholds or methods for determining a quantitative or qualitative threshold value.