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IEC’s Lighting Technical Committee meets in Wellington to drive standards forward

IEC TC34 gathering at TePapa Wellington

Working groups from the International Electrotechnical Commission’s (IEC) Technical Committee TC34 (Lighting) met in Wellington in February. The gathering was the first of three planned for 2020, to be held in different parts of the world. Like many other organisations however, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a rethink on how this grouping will meet going forward.

According to New Zealand’s Head of Delegation on IEC TC34, Bryan King, working groups are where the hard work of drafting standards is done. ‘This is where any technical differences of opinion are hammered out and consensus is met,’ he says.

Bryan, who is also the Executive Director of Lighting Council New Zealand, explains the triannual face-to-face meetings are important, because standards are consensus documents. This means they have to be the view of the majority of experts on the committee.

‘This isn't always achieved on the first draft, due to different cultural backgrounds, country backgrounds and scale of markets. These meetings are to iron out any differences and reach agreement on the content and structures of new or updated standards,’ he explains. ‘There is the opportunity to push agendas, so there are very firm rules for fair play, as well as transparent processes, agendas and meeting minutes.’

Despite New Zealand’s size relative to other industrialised nations, our contribution to TC 34 is ‘enormous’, says committee Chair, Andreas Scholtz. ‘In particular, New Zealand is leading the way with the focus on environmental aspects and looking at lighting through the eyes of consumers,’ he adds.

Photo caption: Pictured at a Lighting Council-hosted event at Te Papa during the IEC TC34 gathering were (left to right): Bev Harniss (Standards NZ) , Bryan King (Executive Director, Lighting Council NZ and IEC TC34 NZ Delegate), Andrew Caseley (CEO EECA) , Steve Lowes (Standards NZ). Photo courtesy Lighting Council New Zealand.

Q+A with Bryan King on IEC TC 34 and its role in developing lighting standards

What is the role of IEC TC 34 and its significance?

IEC TC 34 is responsible for developing standards that relate to light sources, luminaires (light fittings), control gear, and certain aspects of dedicated lighting networks. Significantly, there has been a quantum shift from analogue to digital and from lighting components to full interconnected systems.

Over the last decade LED lighting has totally transformed the way we light homes, offices, factories and roads. This technology shift has saved enormous amounts of energy and saved users hundreds of millions of dollars in operating and maintenance costs. Many IEC safety standards have been adopted as joint Australian (AS) and New Zealand (NZS) standards and are cited in New Zealand regulation for electrical, thermal, and optical safety.

IEC TC 34 is a genuinely international committee. The technical standards for lighting products, as well as (for example) phones, computers and cars, are the baseline of fair international trade in these products. This committee discusses safety, performance and environmental aspects, assisting in delivering a level playing field for export and import trade without by not allowing Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

What’s New Zealand’s role in IEC TC 34?

Many IEC standards become joint standards, drafted in close cooperation between New Zealand and Australian lighting experts. Wherever possible, these are full-text or modified adoptions of IEC international standards. These joint standards might have relatively minor adjustments made to them – usually to adapt them to be more suitable to the region concerned – such as Australia or New Zealand.

Adaptions sometimes give rise to differences of opinion between Australia and New Zealand. This is where negotiation happens on standards committees. The target is to harmonise to the maximum extent possible with IEC standards, because we're dealing with world products rather than regional products.

Where is New Zealand in the world of lighting standards?

New Zealand is world class when it comes to our infrastructure and, specifically, our street lighting. Wellington City Council and the Wellington region, for example, has almost entirely converted their lighting systems to smart connected LED. They use internet-based radio frequency (RF) smart controls for adapting the lighting to exact user needs and to monitor asset condition and energy use.

The equipment, product safety, product performance, connected smart devices, and central management systems are mostly based on IEC standards that have been adapted to Australian/ New Zealand joint standards. These standards-driven control systems can be adjusted in a smart way, which reduces energy use, the impact on hardware, and the carbon footprint. New Zealand is very advanced in this area.

How does New Zealand’s participation in IEC standards development help facilitate free trade?

World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade Rules and trade treaties with New Zealand’s main trading partners stipulate the use of international standards as the basis of fair trade practice, including electrotechnical and lighting products. Poorly conceived product standards can lead to Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), which harm commercial prospects for exporters and reduce competition for consumers. 

IEC TC34 meets to ensure that technical requirements are fair and open without commercial or trade distortions and electrical, thermal, and optical safety factors are considered. This means that regulators in countries around the world can use these technical standards to promulgate regulation citing those standards to ensure there are good safety provisions for consumers. It also ensures there is a level playing field for trade – both export and import – without any Technical Barriers to Trade.

What does the future look like for lighting standards?

Historically, IEC lighting standards were hardware standards about ‘things’, for example, products and hardware typically made of plastics and metal. Increasingly, standards are not just about these things, but also about software, middleware, and the configuration processes that connect them all together.

As a result, the IEC TC 34 committee’s workload and scope has transformed markedly in the last five years with the transition from analogue to digital. Many IEC standards are now being drafted as ‘systems’ standards rather than as standards for separate products. This is a reflection of the new connectivity opportunities of home and commercial lighting systems.

The term ‘lighting systems’ is the new buzzword, because we live in a society now where just about everything is connected, either physically, or – more commonly – remotely, via Wi-Fi, cellular or Bluetooth.

Lighting systems are the order of the day now, where the luminaire – what most people call the light fitting – is connected to its control gear. This electronic ‘black box’ connects the light source to some sort of sensor. These are all increasingly connected to the internet and to the cloud, allowing the products to be controlled and performance monitored. They can be monitored for things like hours of use, electricity consumption, and carbon footprint, for example. As a result, new standards need to be developed for use by manufacturers, designers, procurement managers and user groups.

These internationally-aligned technical standards are the basis of competitive procurement in commercial and public sector tenders. This means that procurement agencies – such as commercial building contractors and project managers – can write procurement specifications for lighting, based on internationally recognised technical standards. This means that when the supplier tenders are received, tender managers can compare bids on a fair and equal footing.