IEC approach to energy efficiency

The efficient use of energy has long been considered an unexploited energy resource. According to the International Energy Agency (IAE), energy efficiency is the ‘first fuel of a sustainable, global energy system’. But how can this resource be better harvested?

Energy efficiency is a cost-effective means for supporting growing energy demands

To help technical committees consider issues related to energy efficiency when developing standards for electrical and electronic devices and systems, the IEC set up the Advisory Committee on Energy Efficiency (ACEE) in 2013. Currently chaired by Philippe Vollet, ACEA seeks to coordinate standardization activities related to energy efficiency by providing a holistic approach.

Defining energy efficiency

The IEC defines energy efficiency as the ratio between output performance compared with the input of energy. It consists of the following: using less energy for the same performance, using the same energy for better performance, or improving the conversion of energy into electricity.

Economic growth implies an increased demand in energy. However, this demand in energy can have negative consequences for the environment. For this reason, energy efficiency is a cost-effective means for supporting the growing demand for energy while simultaneously limiting greenhouse gas emissions. As noted by Vollet, “energy efficiency is key to addressing the challenge to support energy policies while preserving the environment”.

Barriers to energy efficiency

Many energy efficient technologies and solutions are readily available. Investments and a commitment towards energy efficiency abound, yet a number of barriers inhibits the deployment of energy efficiency solutions and impedes harvesting the full potential of energy efficiency.

The barriers to the wide adoption of energy efficiency include a lack of awareness about the saving potential, focus on the performance of devices rather than the system, and the absence of incentives for the user. The lack of adequate information about performance efficiency as well as the lack of widely used metrics to measure performance efficiency is another barrier.

However, standardization can offer solutions to help overcome these barriers.

Standards can help

According to Vollet, “standardization can play an important role for energy efficiency. For example, standards provide definitions and measurements of performance, help to disseminate and promote energy efficiency technologies and set minimum energy performance requirements”.

Yet the challenge for standardization is to provide a systems integration approach. While improving the energy efficiency of individual devices can lead to better energy outcomes, a systems integration approach allows much greater benefit. The energy performance of components is optimized when addressed as an integrated system. As Vollet notes, “the efficiency gains of a system are much higher than those of its individual parts. Therefore, there is a need for a holistic approach which is a shift from traditional standardization which tends to focus on products”.

To help IEC technical committees develop standards that can address energy efficiency, ACEE has developed Guide 118 and Guide 119 which, according to Vollet, “help break the barriers to energy efficiency and help technical committees adopt a systems approach to energy efficiency standardization”.

Guide 118 seeks to harmonize the energy efficiency standardization and raise awareness that IEC publications can impact energy performance in both positive and negative ways. It provides a definition to the different aspects of energy efficiency that technical committees can address when developing standards and examples of how to do so. Figure 1 provides an overview of the five energy efficiency aspects and examples of their inclusion in standards.

Because a coordinated approach between IEC technical committees is necessary to achieve a coherent approach to energy efficiency standardization, ACEE has developed Guide 119 which defines the technical and organizational procedures to follow for the preparation of these standards. It provides an overview of how a systems approach can be adopted and defines the type of publication based on the assigned energy efficiency function.

Next steps

Guide 118 and Guide 119 were initially developed in 2017 and are now in the process of being updated. As Vollet notes, “as we are now revising both of these guides, we welcome inputs from technical committees so that we can make sure to improve the next edition”.

Figure 1: the five energy efficiency aspects and examples of their inclusion in standards as per Guide 118