As the utility sector evolves, new standards are constantly being developed and revised to enhance economic efficiency and international competitiveness, while meeting the demands for a safe and sustainable environment.
At the centre of these developments is Standards Australia, a non-governmental organisation whose expertise and main responsibility is the development and adoption of standards in Australia.
Standards play an important role in the utility sector, directly and indirectly, by providing specifications, procedures and guidelines to follow.
Standards Australia develops standards for the utility sector and other industries by forming technical committees, comprising relevant parties and stakeholders, and through the process of consensus agree on standards for Australia’s net benefit.
The organisation also facilitates Australia’s participation in international standards development such as the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and International Electrotechnology Commission (IEC).
Dr Bronwyn Evans, CEO at Standards Australia, said the aim of the organisation was to engage with the utility sector and develop standards where they were needed.
“It’s our role to work with the sector and others to develop and adopt standards. However, at some point I think we will need to step beyond our operations and start a conversation with the sector about how we can work together to address the increasingly critical role of information, data and connectivity. The issue of infrastructure security also requires our joint attention.”
There are a number of important changes happening to standards across the board and a number of specific changes affecting the development of standards in the utility sector. Some of the more prominent catalysts are government initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the speed of development in industries and technology, and the increasing prominence of data.
“These factors cannot be ignored, and the utility sector is at the forefront of these changes and the standards that will come with them,” Dr Evans said.
“The themes around Industry 4.0 – the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies – and smart infrastructure demand a lot of work in standards and we are working on this at an international level.”
A recent example of these shifts in standards is the publication of AS/NZS 4755.3.5, which defines the demand management and operating instructions for battery storage systems.
This is of interest to the sector as energy providers and retailers have an interest in this technology to provide supplementary power during peak load events and ensuring the ongoing reliability of energy networks.
“A revision of AS 5488, Classification of Subsurface Utility Information was also very recently approved. This standard is intended for use by utility owners, operators and locators and provides a framework for the consistent classification of information concerning subsurface utilities,” Dr Evans said.
“The revision project will look at new and emerging engineering and construction technology, ensuring alignment with what is happening around the world.
“We are also working on a number of roadmaps in the energy sector that will guide our development work over the next few years, which the utility sector has contributed to.”
A state of transition
Dr Evans said the utility sector was already able to see the new wave of digital disruption that would impact on it in the future.
“New digital technology will transform the way companies and agencies operate and how they engage with their customers.
“That is why the shift toward renewables and a focus change to energy security, storage systems, demand management, microgrids and a range of other technologies is of interest to us.
“The infrastructure that was installed in the last 50 years needs to cope with these changes, so it remains critical that the standards that support these technologies are in place.”
Dr Evans said an important part of this transition was developing standards that foster innovation by providing the building blocks for innovative technical advancement and technological breakthroughs.
Digital’s impact on standards
Advances in technology has not only impacted the utility sector but has also impacted the development of standards.
Dr Evans said there had been a change in pace of developments across the world and as a result standards were moving fast and the challenge for contributors was to keep up.
“We have commenced a substantial investment in our digital transformation program this year. This was done after a comprehensive review of how digital transformation fits into our role in the economy today, and tomorrow.
“The world of tomorrow demands more than books. It’s a world where value adding to content will be the rule, not the exception. The focus is to ensure the good use of contributor time with maximum flexibility for whatever the future may look like.
“We are currently in the first phase of this transformation, establishing a central and searchable content repository, connecting content development to digital curation, and flexibility of outputs. This is only the beginning and if you look at where information is heading, it is an exciting time for standards developers globally.”
The future of standards
Despite the rapid changes that are occurring in the utility sector, with standards following suit, Dr Evans said the key elements would remain the same.
“Standards in the utility sector are mission critical – that will remain. How they are developed, managed, mapped and used is where the great changes will be and I think, in time, the way we look at standards as documents or sets of information will also change,” Dr Evans said.
“We value and appreciate the time given to us by our contributors and need to maximise their outcomes to make it simpler, faster and better to work with us to develop and use our standards.
“I think the other big change will be in how we develop standards. Governments, industries and supply chains need certainty but they also want agility. How this is implemented in practice will be a big one to watch.”