How Standards help restore confidence in a technology

Issue 42 – September 2012

In the early 80s, there was a lack of harmonisation of the design process of wind turbines and, therefore, a lack of stakeholder confidence. This led to a drop in funding and a loss of investor credibility. International Standards allowed manufacturers to design more reliable machines. This helped to rebuild trust and investment in the technology.

Standard measurements

In the 1980s wind turbines where unreliable and their performance differed widely. At the time, industry lacked a consistent design process and because of this, important design features were missing. At the same time, many engineers had a bias against standardisation. They felt that it impedes progress, constrains innovation, and does not signpost the path to the most creative, lowest cost, most reliable solution.

More reliable machines

The machines started to improve when manufacturers started to test. That objective testing was part of the international Standards they were helping to develop. Providing a consistent set of measures for performance and reliability allowed the industry to objectively compare the performance and advancement of technologies and design. Standards provide reliable data and help build more reliable machines. They are also the basis for conformity testing.

Building trust that results in increased investment

Standards helped build stakeholder trust because they permitted the objective comparison of different turbines. This was key to reassuring the financial community and regulators that machines were built to some objective third party process; and that they were reviewed to rules the entire industry agreed upon.

Facilitating communication

Standards provided the industry with a common vocabulary. Wind turbines are highly technical products; today, any buyer, owner/operator, or investor who is sophisticated in the wind industry uses the terminology imbedded in the Standards. Whether it is a wind class, a turbine design class, turbulence levels, and so on; everybody understands what is meant. The conversation is more fruitful and constructive and expectations are set more accurately.

Pre-empting customer needs

In the Standards development process, companies take part in discussions with their competitive peers, but they also get exposure to potential customers. This exposure helps to keep the focus on ensuring the product fits in with the original equipment manufacturer's design process.

A head-start for certification

Ultimately, in the business of wind power, all wind turbines end up being certified by certification bodies. This is a market imperative. If the Standard cannot be clearly understood by users, then it is more difficult to obtain certification. Conformity assessment may end up being more expensive because of time lost by the user in becoming familiar with the terms of the Standard. Taking part in the Standards development process can give users a head start for later certification.

Benefitting from a global think-tank

Companies that have not taken part in the development of a Standard may end up with a product development missing an important, fundamental design element, an oversight that can be expensive and time consuming to correct after the fact. Or, their technology might inadvertently be ignored. By participating in the Standard setting process, companies are able to make their technologies known to the wider community and are able to learn from the mistakes others have made before them.

A good Standard does not require that confidential aspects of intellectual property be revealed. It will simply seek to establish design requirements, which all products must address.

The ability to sell globally

Wind turbine designers know that their product is going to be shipped internationally. They will, therefore, create designs that comply with international Standards because they want to be able to sell them throughout the world. They can't possibly design their products to fit the full range of national Standards.

In the late 1980s, wind turbines were not profitable. The financial community lost confidence in the technology and it has taken years to rebuild it. Standards have helped with this process as they offered investors a guarantee that machines were being designed in accordance with objective criteria established by third parties and upon which the entire industry agreed. Standards make an important contribution, giving confidence to investors and stakeholders. They have helped wind power and the wind turbine industry develop and grow.

Summarised from the World Standards Cooperation Newsletter August 2012.

Published in engineering.