The Evolution of the NEC
NFPA Journal®, May/June 2010
This year marks the seventh revision of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code®, since I arrived at NFPA in the early 1990s. When I first became involved with the NEC process, working with the Standards Council as NFPA’s General Counsel almost 20 years ago, I was amazed at the amount of time, effort, and resources committed by our volunteers, and by NFPA itself, to revise the NEC. I soon realized how important this project is to public safety and to the economy in the United States, and to so many other places around the world where the NEC is in use. We depend on the safe use of electricity for every aspect of life, and throughout its history, the NEC has been the standard for electrical safety.
As technology has changed, it has become even more important that the NEC keep up with those changes. To do that, we rely on NFPA’s ability to attract knowledgeable, committed participants who are willing to share their expertise during the arduous code revision process. The numbers are impressive. The NEC project includes 19 code-making panels and more than 450 panel members. The panels and the NEC Technical Correlating Committee devote thousands of hours every cycle to complete the document.
Even more impressive than those numbers is the quality of the participation. Our NFPA code-panel members believe in the work that they do on the NEC. They are experts who understand how much society depends on them to come up with the right answers on electrical safety and how important it is that the NEC be kept up to date, and those are what motivate members to participate.
Two of the most pressing initiatives in the country today involve the NEC, and both are crucial components of national energy policy. The first is the development of the so-called “smart grid.” Billions of dollars are being spent by the federal government and industry on the technology necessary to automatically regulate the flow of electricity to customers to conserve energy and reduce costs. The new edition of the NEC includes a number of changes addressing renewable energy, including solar and wind power, many of which have smart-grid ramifications. Working to ensure that the NEC fully accommodates smart-grid requirements will be a key part of our activities in the coming years. We have already begun discussions with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which has been given the task within the federal government of coordinating smart-grid interoperability policy, and we know that the NEC will be an important component as this historic national energy initiative moves forward.
Another exciting initiative is the move toward plug-in electric vehicles. The federal government recently committed $2.4 billion to support the development of these vehicles; to a large extent, the auto industry has staked its future on them. The establishment of the infrastructure to safely and efficiently charge electric vehicles is the key to this entire initiative and is directly affected by the NEC. At NFPA, we are not going to wait to see what develops. A new defined term, “Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle,” has been introduced to the NEC, and NEC panel members will oversee many more changes related to this topic in years to come. We are speaking directly to government officials and the auto industry to keep ourselves informed and to ensure that policymakers are aware of the need to understand the NEC and to work within our process.
These are two good examples of how vital our NEC process is and how important it is to have so many highly skilled and committed participants in each revision cycle. The National Electrical Code has been one of NFPA’s proudest accomplishments, and its record of safety has been truly extraordinary. We are grateful to everyone who participates in the development of the NEC, an achievement that has long been of surpassing importance to all U.S. citizens and that will be even more crucial to their safety and well-being in the years ahead.