Energy for our ageing world

The population of the world is getting older and as a result, energy requirements are increasing.

Senior citizens consume more energy (photo: Shai-WMIL for WMIL)

The older we get, the more we consume energy and especially electricity. In the US, studies have demonstrated that in warm states the elderly demographic uses more air-conditioning in the summer than other populations. Energy consumption increases with affluence and in Western societies, the retired are often the most affluent. As from 30 years of age, people tend to consume more energy as they grow older. They start purchasing more and more consumer electronics goods and buy larger houses, as their revenue increases.

The elderly - the above 70 years of age demographic - also depend increasingly on medical services and devices, whether at home or in hospital. In many parts of the world, including Australia, Canada, China, Europe, Japan, New Zealand and the US, the latest technologies are used to monitor elderly people living at home or simply help them in their daily lives. Alarm-triggering devices and many other active assisted living (AAL) tools, such as voice-activated systems, consume electric power, but are viewed as essential to help people stay at home as long as possible. Smart homes are homes with technologically advanced systems to enable domestic task automation, easier communication and higher security. Contrary to many perceptions which equate the use of smart technology with the young, smart homes are particularly suitable for people with special needs, especially older people. This is progress, but it has a trade-off: greater energy consumption.

Turning the lights off

Improved energy efficiency (EE) is one of the ways of reducing the increasing carbon footprint of our aging world. This is where IEC International Standards can help. IEC has put energy efficiency at the core of its standards development work. It has established a special advisory group to address EE-related issues, ACEE (the Advisory Committee on Energy Efficiency). It coordinates activities related to energy efficiency inside the IEC and encourages a systems perspective for the development of standards for energy efficiency. It publishes two guides to help IEC technical committees grapple with EE.

  • IEC Guide 118: Inclusion of energy efficiency aspects in electrotechnical publications. The publication gives guidance on how to consider energy efficiency aspects when preparing IEC documents. EE consists of using less energy for the same performance, using the same energy for a better performance, or improving the conversion of energy into electricity.
  • IEC Guide 119: Preparation of energy efficiency publications and the use of basic energy efficiency publications and group energy efficiency publications. This guide defines procedures for the preparation of EE publications and describes the relationship between TC responsible for group EE functions. It provides an overview of how a systems approach can be adopted and defines the types of publications (basic, group or product) based on the assigned energy efficiency function (horizontal, basic or group).

One of the four IEC Conformity Assessment systems, IECEE (IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components), has established the IECEE Electrical Energy Efficiency (E3) programme, a globally standardized approach to testing and verifying energy efficiency for electrical and electronic equipment, based on IEC International Standards.

Renewable energies are cleaner

Clean electricity is generated from different forms of solar energy and from wind, hydro, marine and geothermal energy – all of which are non-polluting compared to fossil fuel sources of electric power. Countries all around the world are gradually shifting to these renewable sources of energy, in some cases because they help people who do not have access to electricity finally use that essential resource.

IEC develops standards which help all renewable energy systems to be built and used efficiently and safely. At least five IEC TCs deal with these aspects, including IEC TC 82 which prepares standards for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems or IEC TC 88 which releases publications covering wind energy systems. TC  82, for instance, publishes the IEC 60904 series on PV devices and all their different parts.

One of the four IEC CA Systems, IECRE (IEC System for Certification to Standards relating to Equipment for use in Renewable Energy Applications) is specifically designed to address certification issues relating to renewable energy systems. The scheme applies to solar, wind and marine energy facilities. For instance, IECRE offers certification of the entire lifecycle of a PV power plant, from initial design aspects to annual inspections and ultimate asset transfer. It uses IEC International Standards which cover many critical design, quality, safety and performance aspects.

The direct current option

As renewable energies such as sun and wind produce direct current (DC) power, several trials are seeking to use DC from generation right through to consumption, without ever converting to alternating current (AC). Consumer devices which operate on DC power include battery-operated equipment, electronics, computers, LED lighting, electric vehicles and more. In a conventional electricity network, power is transmitted over long distances using alternating current (AC). DC is becoming a viable alternative, as more and more distributed power systems (such as solar panels or roofs or small wind turbines) are used to complement the uni-directional transmission from power station to the end-user. Moving from DC to DC without converting electricity to AC is more energy efficient. Little or no loss of energy is experienced, contrary to what occurs when converting one form of current to another.

Japan is one of the countries in which DC trials have mushroomed. More than ten different projects scattered across the country rely on DC power. They include the hybrid AC/DC Fukuoka Smart House inaugurated in 2012, which utilizes energy supplied from a number of different DC sources.

One could imagine a future where all smart homes would be powered by DC, thereby saving  a considerable amount of energy. IEC is preparing the ground for a potential switch to DC with a wide number of standards. IEC TC 8, for instance, is preparing standards for low voltage direct current (LVDC) systems, which could apply to some smart homes.

Our world is changing at a rapid pace and keeping up with the speed of change and planning how to cope with the aging of the population, not only in terms of well-being and independence, but also energy requirements, is where the work of the IEC comes in.