A welcome return to normal assessment conditions

Alistair Mackinnon

IECRE (the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Renewable Energy Applications) Chair, Alistair Mackinnon, tells us what’s in the pipeline for 2023 as he starts his second term at the head of the conformity assessment system.

IECRE is the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Renewable Energy Applications.

Can you review the performance of IECRE for the three energy sectors over the last year?

Wind continues as our largest sector both in terms of members, stakeholders and in its financial support to the IECRE System. Major work was completed in updating and aligning all our rules documents in accordance with the Conformity Assessment Board (CAB) policy. Our stakeholder groups have remained very proactive as we ease out of the pandemic restrictions on meetings and travel. The IECRE assessment programme continued apace albeit almost exclusively on a remote basis. New work was started on model validation and cyber security and the test labs continued with several proficiency testing programmes. 

Work continues in the marine sector after having welcomed our first certification body. Our photovoltaic (PV) sector has made good progress with the PV Rating System through the efforts of a small but enthusiastic group of dedicated members and the concept is now being developed to the next level.

We were able to hold our first management meeting with face-to-face participation in Frankfurt, kindly hosted by our friends and colleagues from the German Member Body. We were delighted to have CAB support in acknowledging Denmark’s Frank Ormel’s contribution to IECRE through the IEC Thomas Edison Award. CAB accepted our final version of an improvement plan, and we look forward to the ongoing delivery of its objectives. My personal regret is that our global assessment programme became somewhat protracted largely due to the challenges of working remotely.   

Looking ahead to 2023, what goals does IECRE hope to achieve?

2023 sees the start of my second and final term as Chair of IECRE and I hope that we can continue to grow the system, incorporate new deliverables and welcome new member bodies. We will be utilizing a financial model and cost base which we hope will bring added flexibility for members whilst maintaining the system’s financial stability. It is difficult to develop IECRE without a secure financial base so efforts will be required to ensure that our financial model meets member aspirations whilst allowing us to pursue new challenges. Grid issues remain a challenge but our working group in this area has made excellent progress and we hope to soon have an IECRE deliverable for Grid Code Compliance (GCC). With travel restrictions generally easing, we hope to return to more proactive face-to-face meetings and expedite the ongoing assessment programme more easily. New deliverables are always being assessed in the light of technical developments under the auspices of the Standardization Management Board (SMB) and we hope to add gearbox/drivetrain testing in the near future.

What are the main challenges?

We rely almost exclusively on the active participation of our members. Recent experience during the pandemic has shown that some of them found it difficult to contribute as much as they once did, so we need to review our participation model and make it easier and more efficient as well as more cost effective for them to contribute. Remote working has some benefits and some drawbacks, but better use of technology may help us become more operationally effective. We rely on our members for many aspects of the successful operation of IECRE and should not forget that “people buy people”. Our members, their knowledge and their willingness to contribute are our biggest asset and we need to better utilize and reward that resource. The renewable energy sector has matured and is globally a multi-million dollar business, and IECRE needs to recognize and be responsive to what the sector is doing. Lastly, climate change is a sad reality and the expansion of IECRE deliverables will be an integral part of achieving essential climate change goals.

How will these goals be addressed?

As I mentioned, our members are key to IECRE development and success, so in addition to a better co-ordination of existing efforts, as a system, we need to reach out more widely technically and geographically. It is equally important that we align our conformity assessment thinking with the technical work being developed in our sister technical committees under the SMB – IEC TC 82 for PV systems, TC 88 for wind energy generation systems and TC 114 for marine energy systems. We are fortunate to already have many members from these technical committees, but we can always welcome more. Specifically, I would like to see greater involvement from governments, non-governmental organizations and regulators in IECRE who can help to broaden its current horizons.

How important is conformity assessment – and IECRE especially – to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and vice versa?

In the absence of conformity assessment, the effectiveness of any form of technology can be difficult to independently confirm. Consequently, assuring stakeholders of the safety, operability, efficiency and longevity of the technology can be challenging. However, with clearly defined conformity assessment criteria based on consensus agreed rules, practice and principle as well as internationally agreed technical standards, the process becomes much more straightforward and globally comparable. This, in turn, gives stakeholders the confidence that products have been designed, tested, evaluated, manufactured and operated in the optimum way with due regard to health and safety, and environmental conditions. The UN SDGs set out what needs to be achieved globally for everyone’s betterment and IECRE aligns to these as currently stated and can contribute to their evolution in the future.

Any new developments and areas of interest?

As the most recent of the IEC Conformity Assessment Systems and having been operational for just over eight years now, IECRE has much to learn from our friends and colleagues in IECEE (the IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components), IECEx (the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres) and IECQ (the IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components). We are already working collaboratively with IECEE on cyber security. The security of energy networks will always be a factor, especially in times of international instability. Our energy supply is becoming even more crucial to our daily lives and its maintenance and security ever more important. The through-life management, life extension, recycling and remanufacturing of wind energy parts are now real issues in the wind sector and TC 88 will soon have new criteria that IECRE can embrace. When I first became involved in the wind sector in the 1980s, a so-called large wind turbine delivered around 300 kW of power. In 2023, wind turbines of around 15 MW are already being demonstrated offshore, and that is 50 times the capacity of these 1980s devices. I therefore often wonder with some excitement what developments we will see in the next 40 years....