The technology and application of low carbon energy systems moves at an ever-increasing pace. The drive to replace fossil fuels with renewables is motivating technologists, entrepreneurs and investors to develop solutions which will enable potential domestic and commercial customers to reduce demands for power and to generate power using low carbon technologies.

The people who write and maintain product related standards in this field have a struggle on their hands to keep the standards in line with technology development. Yet standards are needed to ensure that customers can rely on products which can be connected to other equipment, and the power supply grid, safely and effectively.

The ISO management system standards also have a role to play. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows data (from TUV Rheinland) that the vast majority of failures of renewable energy systems have a root cause in the quality of the manufacture or installation, rather than arising from the design of the technology solution. Reliable quality in product manufacture, installation and maintenance are essential to maximise customer take-up of products in the field. Well thought out quality assurance will mitigate a risk which investors are likely to consider in deciding where to put their funds.

ISO 9001 is firmly established as the Quality Assurance Standard for the vast majority of types of business. The revision in 2015 removes some of the bureaucracy, and introduces management assessment of risk in making decisions about implementation. Modern technologies enable necessary information (increasingly in multiple formats) to be made available in the latest version where and when required with minimal effort. It forms a sound base for designing an operation to meet the needs of the any market, and to drive improvement in customer service and operational efficiency.

The 2015 revision of the ISO management systems standards also harmonised their structures, which helps business implement multiple standards using matching processes to meet the various requirements. This matters for business in the low carbon sector, as their customers will often be driven by improvement targets detailed in ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems, and ISO 50001, Energy Management Systems. Business in the low carbon sector can implement these standards to ensure 1) that they take these requirements int account in their own activities, and 2) that company and its staff understand what motivates their customers to improve environmental performance.

The ISO standards have had a poor reputation historically in some sectors for introducing unnecessary bureaucracy and blocking change. The standards use words like “appropriate” and “suitable” in most clauses. The business therefore has the flexibility to design and implement practices which meet their requirements AND address the requirements of the standards.

Third party certification to the ISO management system standards is well established in many fields, and low carbon energy will be no be different. The UK Accreditation Service has issued over 100 accreditation certificates to bodies who can carry out ISO9001 certification, and over 30 for ISO 14001. There are also some bodies who do this work under assessment schemes which do not have the accepted national accreditation mark from UKAS. Businesses who believe independent certification of the quality and/or environmental management system is useful have a wide range of choice. Lead-time, cost, customer acceptability and experience of the sector will be considerations for business seeking third part certification.

Businesses based in Liverpool City Region who are working in the low carbon sector, or aspire to work in the sector, can hear more about this at our workshop on 22 November. Alastair Cameron of Glentarn Consultants, who has worked with these standards and their predecessors in a wide range of sectors for over 40 years, will describe the requirements and processes for effective implementation for businesses. A representative from Liverpool based World Certification Services, a UKAS accredited certification body, will detail the assessment process. There will be opportunities for companies to ask questions about their specific business requirements, and receive guidance on how best to move forward.

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