While international trade today is largely through the physical transfer
of goods, electricity could provide a game changing role in the
“virtualisation” of trade while, at the same time, “smart
electrification” could bring enormous economic and social benefits to
developed and developing countries alike.
We live in a world where there is increasing pressure to stabilize
climate impact from fossil fuel use, while meeting the energy demands as
the world population rises from 6,5 billion in 2006 to 8,2 billion in
2030. Of course, there are also 1,6 billion people who currently have no
access to electricity (and, by implication, are deprived of the inherent
benefits in development that such access can bring in terms of
education, quality of life, etc.).
Today CO2 emissions related to energy use are at a level of 28 Gt (Gigatonnes
of CO2 per annum), which represents 70 % of total greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions. Electricity generation represents something approaching a
half of this, at about 11 Gt. Electricity generation today represents 31
% of total global fossil fuel use, and around 40 % of all energy-related
CO2 emissions. However, of the fuel used to generate electricity, two
thirds are lost in generation and another 9 % in transmission/distribution.
Where is the potential for electricity?
The IEC — as the global developer of International Standards and
Conformity Assessment in the field of electricity, electronics and
associated technologies — believes that major gains (increases in
efficiency and subsequent reductions in GHG emissions) can be made
through the use of International Standards using proven technologies
that can today save up to 30 % in the efficiency of generation.
Furthermore, the IEC is developing the standards to support the
development of new technologies that could further increase these
In the area of power generation and distribution the IEC is developing
the infrastructure standards and control/management standards for the
electric “smart grid” that optimize production and provision of
electric power and enable the sharing of best practices, whatever a
region’s or country’s needs. Ultra-high voltage AC, UHVAC (AC
transmission whose highest voltage exceeds 1 000 kV) and UHVDC (DC
transmission whose highest voltage exceeds 800 kV) are examples of
advanced technology for loss reduction by upgrading transmission
voltages. Just as importantly, the IEC provides the International
Standards for connecting and electrifying rural communities, using grid
or stand-alone power generation.
On the demand side, in the home, office or factory, the IEC has and is
developing International Standards that can give significant energy
efficiency improvements, covering technologies including lighting
systems, motors and transformers, while optimizing the use of such
devices through “smart” energy management systems.
Decarbonizing electricity generation
The IEC believes that while fossil fuels will continue to play a
majority role in world electricity generation, there are significant
improvements using existing and future technologies to improve the
efficiency of thermal power generation and to “de-carbonize” the
processes through, for example, CO2 capture and storage. IEC Standards
will help to facilitate the technology transfer of such improvements to
all relevant countries.
Renewable energies offer the ultimate in decarbonisation, and the IEC is
continuing to develop International Standards covering all technologies
covering water, wind, solar, and nuclear. The IEC’s work include
standards addressing improvements in the efficiency of well-established
tec-nologies, such as those in the hydroelectric sector, while tackling
the nascent technologies, as in the case of marine electricity
Virtualization of trade
The down-side to today’s current physical trading model is the use of
fossil fuels and subsequent pollution caused by greenhouse gas
emissions, which in turn have an influence on climate change. If some of
this physical trading could be “virtualised”, then the logic is that the
economic benefits of trade can be maintained while the side-effects of
physical trade can be mitigated.
The IEC believes that it can play a significant role in one
“virtualisation” of trade: electrification. Electrification does not
eliminate the physical totally, but it provides a more “virtual”
transfer of energy than shipping oil or coal, for example.
Furthermore, if world trade in efficient and low-emission products is
promoted — through the use of relevant IEC International Standards and
using the global conformity assessment solutions in place — there would
clearly be a contribution to more efficient management of the world’s
Greater use of information and communications technology can also
facilitate further virtualisation of the trading environment. The 2010
eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland saw an enforced,
increased use of ICT to keep trade flowing through the utilization of
“virtual” meetings using web technology and the like.
Electrification offers a great potential for global trade. Increasing
the proportion of electricity transmitted and used as a fuel, and
correspondingly decreasing the proportion of physical fuels such as oil
and coal, implies saving of natural resources. Electricity can be
produced with much less impact on the environment than burning fossil
fuels for the equivalent energy.
In addition, trade in electricity as the energy vector over long
distances is a virtualization when compared to trade in oil and coal
over the same distances, and saves natural resources. This is true even
with the same source for the fossil fuel: generation local to the fossil
fuel deposit and long-distance transmission of electricity is more
efficient than long-distance transport of fossil fuel and electricity
generation local to the end use.
In conclusion, electricity offers major opportunities to the global
market, in terms of social and economic development, while the sharing
of the best practices through IEC International Standards can help
developed and developing countries combat the energy and climate change
challenges of the future.
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