First IEC Regulator Forum takes place in South Korea

Key meeting in Busan concludes that standardization experts and regulators should work together more closely for the benefit of society and the economy

The IEC General-Secretary and CEO, Frans Vreeswijk, has told 150 stakeholders from across the renewable energy sector that international standards and public policy share important objectives. These include facilitating international trade, bolstering economic competitiveness and enhancing safety and efficiency. Mr. Vreeswijk was addressing the first IEC Regulator Forum during the recent General Meeting in Busan, South Korea.

IEC President James Shannon speaks during the IEC Regulator Forum

Energy producers, suppliers and transmission and distribution system operators joined representatives of regulatory bodies and standardization experts for an engrossing exchange of ideas. The consensus was that standards organizations and regulators needed to find ways to work together more closely in order to achieve key societal and economic goals.  

“Reference to standards helps keep regulations simple, eliminating the need for long technical details. International standards help to avoid island solutions and they encourage the cooperation of different stakeholders towards a common outcome,” said Mr. Vreeswijk.

Mr. Vreeswijk underlined the importance of combining standards with conformity assessment. Standards provide written instructions, while testing and certification verify that those instructions are properly applied in real-world technical systems.  He said that standards and conformity assessment facilitated the work of regulators by providing technical frameworks, metrics and specifications that were revised as technologies evolved.

“Standards together with conformity assessment are important tools for the regulators. They promote best regulatory practice by providing reference points that allow laws and regulations to stay up to date.”

“Testing and certification, including the four IEC conformity assessment systems, are crucial to build a quality and market surveillance infrastructure that verifies the safety and reliability of the goods that enter the national market.”

Chris Villarreal, a veteran of the electricity regulatory policy industry in the United States, including two years as Director of Policy at the Minnesota PUC, said, “It’s important that the entire community are working together to address and break down silos.”

“It’s not just regulator and regulator,” said Mr. Villarreal, “but regulator and utility, utility and market, vendor and market, working together to come up with a solution that’s based on standards that enable both the policies of government and also the goals of society.”

He said that regulators had a critically important coordination role but they needed help from the standardization bodies to inform their policy decisions. It would also help, he said, if utilities were more transparent about the standards they employed to support reliability, safety and everyday business practices.

Hein Bollens, Deputy Head of Unit for European Standardisation in the Directorate General in charge of Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, said that ideally standards should be an integral and seamless part of the regulatory process.  “The best standard is the one you do not see,” he said.

“Nowadays there is the need for having standards in a regulatory context to make sure, for example at the European level, that European policies are being endorsed and implemented. More and more legislators are looking for alternatives to legislation and therefore we need to learn from each other and know from each other about the requirements, be they legislative requirements or technical requirements, to make sure that the standards would be timely and available to implement those legislations.” 

Honoré Bogler, the Chairman of the ECOWAS Regional Electricity Regulatory Authority for West Africa echoed his views. “Regulators, in their jobs, have to protect consumers and they are interested in the quality and efficiency of the materials brought to consumers in the electricity business,” said Professor Bogler.

Stefano Bracco, Team Leader of the Security Office in the Director's Office at the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators, said that working together meant sharing plans, projects and agendas. He suggested that IEC should consider mapping standards with case studies and templates to help regulators understand their value and importance.

“Regulators are sometimes confused because they have so much information that they cannot even catch up with it,” he said.      

Gerda De Jong, representing the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSOE) argued that the role of the regulator was to represent the needs of the customer to the standards organizations.  “The customer wants to be more active in the market and wants to be able to access all markets freely,” she said.

“Since the customers are very diverse, very distributed and don’t have the resources to participate in the IEC, for example, we think it’s very important that the regulator can be a surrogate, the voice of the customer.”

IEC President James Shannon noted that several speakers had signalled a clear need to strengthen the educational process between the IEC and regulators. He said that too few policymakers understood the unique international system of standards and conformity assessment for advancing technology and improving safety and reliability. 

He cited Ms De Jong and said it was important to have a dialogue between standards bodies and regulators to ensure that the wider needs of society were taken fully into account.

“I’ve never really thought of the regulator as the surrogate for the consumer, but the regulator is the surrogate for the consumer. Consumers of medical technology or energy are not going to come and participate qua consumers in the IEC but the regulator is the voice of the consumer in that context. 

“I think it’s vitally important that we strengthen the system, strengthen the process and we strengthen the relationship between IEC and the regulatory community,”   Mr. Shannon concluded.