Standards help achieve SDGs

An interview with Vimal Mahendru, Convenor of adhoc Group 84

The United Nations defines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the core of its blueprint for building a better world by 2030. The SDGs serve as a call for action to all countries to promote prosperity while simultaneously protecting the environment. They seek to end poverty and stimulate economic growth while also addressing societal needs, such as health and education, and preserving the environment.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Electricity is the cornerstone of nearly all of the SDGs. And, without electricity, the objectives of the SDGs cannot be reached. For example, electricity makes it possible for children to finish their homework at night (SDG 4), for medicine and food to remain cool (SDG 1 and SDG 3) and for pumps to bring clean water into homes (SDG 6). IEC is an essential partner for ensuring the safe access to clean and affordable energy, whether on- or off-grid. Its work contributes to 16 out of the 17 SDGs.

The IEC Standardization Management Board (SMB) set up adhoc Group 84 (ahG 84) with the aim of developing an IEC approach to SDGs, which includes educating the IEC community, and establishing SDG related thinking in its standardization and conformity assessment systems. AhG 84 will also explore how technical committees can better reference the SDGs in their work as well as how conformity assessment schemes can be applied to those standards related to SDGs.

e-tech had the opportunity to speak with Vimal Mahendru, Convenor of ahG 84, during one of his recent visits to Geneva.

What is the role of standards in helping to achieve the UN SDGs?

Let me reverse the question. How can we achieve the SDGs without standards? Standards provide the very definition of what we want to achieve and how we can achieve it. For example, SDG 7 is about clean and affordable energy for all. But how do you define 'clean'? It can be different for everyone which is why standards are so important and integral to defining basic terminology and provide measurement tools for SDGs.

Standards enable global harmonization of efforts to achieve the SDGs. They are key in fulfilling the SDGs. This means that we have a huge responsibility at the IEC!

Which SDGs are impacted by IEC work?

Electricity is everywhere. Name me one thing that makes life more comfortable that does not require electricity? And because electricity is everywhere, the work of the IEC is impacting all SDGs.

How does the IEC support SDG 7 on energy access?

It is estimated that nearly one billion people, roughly 20% of the world’s population, do not have access to any electricity at all. How can they access electricity? One answer could be low-voltage direct current (LVDC) based electricity distribution. Solar PV modules, batteries and electronics used in homes are all using direct current. So, while grid-based electricity might be expensive to set-up and would take a lot of time, deploying DC microgrids is faster and comparable in costs. And the best part, they do not add to pollution since the energy can be efficiently produced using solar PV panels.

IEC started its work on energy access before the UN SDGs. In 2013, some initial work began on enabling energy access and use cases. By 2014, IEC had formed the Standardization Evaluation Group (SEG) on LVDC to determine its impact and relevance to enabling electricity access. This led to the establishment of the Systems Committee on LVDC and LVDC for energy access (SyC LVDC).

Standards are now being developed to allow for direct current microgrids and solar home systems which can power appliances and home electronics. These are consensus standards where the entire IEC community has come together.

It is important to note that these standards are based on the World Bank’s Multi-Tier Framework (MTF) for enabling energy access. This means that the standards are directly beneficial to countries establishing national programmes to implement SDG 7 and rural electrification schemes.

What are some recent activities that IEC is undertaking in support of the SDGs?

IEC has always been looking at development, innovation and new technologies. But one aspect has been less prominent in the past - sustainability. Thanks to the global community coming together in ahG 84, this is now being addressed. We are trying to ensure that whatever important work the technical committees are doing, this work also addresses sustainability. We need to make sure that all IEC work addresses sustainability. For me it is inspiring and humbling that members of the three IEC boards, the Conformity Assessment Board (CAB), Market Strategy Board (MSB) and the Standardization Management Board (SMB) are all working together in ahG 84. 

For example, we have standards for electric wires, circuit breakers and switches. But we need to improve how we address the end of life of products. We need to consider a circular economy.

Just making standards is not sufficient. We also need to monitor and encourage their implementation. Monitoring is best addressed through the Conformity Assessment Board which is likely to develop new schemes that can address the implementation of the SDGs.