Making Green Energy Safe Energy
Research to support the NEC® in the new energy paradigm.
NFPA Journal®, May/June 2009
We hear the bad news every day about energy shortages and high energy costs. But it is the good news—the proliferation of energy-saving technologies, and alternative forms of energy that are making their way into the marketplace—that present challenges for the fire safety community.
The collective goal of the fire safety community is to ensure that the fire and electrical safety of our infrastructure and the emergency responders who protect it are not compromised as we shift to these new technologies. NFPA technical committees are already hard at work developing new standards and revising existing standards to address this emerging paradigm, and the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) is no exception.
In August of last year, the Fire Protection Research Foundation convened its newly formed Advisory Committee on Electrical Safety Research, commissioned by the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, to identify needed research in support of enhancements to the NEC. At its first meeting, the committee, which consists of leaders from NEC code-making panels, identified and set priorities for more than 32 needs and issues from both a long- and short-term perspective. Among them were several addressing the impact that new forms of energy and new energy-saving technologies will have on our electrical safety infrastructure.
First among those issues, identified through Code-Making Panel 2, is the impact of new electrical technologies on our existing assumptions about power consumption, particularly residential power consumption. A quick look around the house will remind you of the astonishing proliferation of electronic devices we now own. Cell phone chargers, wireless access technologies, home computers, printers, shredders, kitchen gadgets, electronic photo frames—all are new to the American home since the tables used in NEC’s Article 220, Branch-Circuit, Feeder and Service Calculations, were created more than three decades ago.
The tables and requirements found in Article 220 describe the typical lighting and appliance electrical loads found in residences and other occupancies. These figures form the basis for many of the requirements for residential electrical safety devices, as well as for the utility networks that deliver power to our homes. The cumulative effect of the introduction of new technologies, both positive and negative, will be a change in both average and hourly power consumption. Thus, the load calculation methodology of Article 220 must be reviewed and confirmed.
As a first step, the committee has asked the Foundation to develop a profile of current electrical loads in residences. NFPA has identified this as a priority project for the funding it provides us each year in support of the needs of technical committees, and we have begun a review of the applicable scientific literature, historical and current code requirements, and preliminary baseline information on residential electrical consumption based on available utility data. NFPA and the Foundation are also concerned with the emerging use of rechargeable electric vehicles and the impact they may have on future power consumption and first responder safety, which may form the basis for a future study.
The Advisory Committee on Electrical Safety Research has identified other studies needed to inform the provisions of the NEC regarding our changing electrical energy paradigm. Those include changes in electrical systems and their installation requirements to support the increased use of LED lighting; the impact of “smart grid” technologies on electrical systems and their installation to support green buildings; and in electrical systems for hydrogen fuels for vehicles. The committee also supports additional study on the effects of distributed generation on power quality and the effectiveness of power quality solutions and remedies.
We look forward to working with the NEC leadership to face these challenges.
Kathleen H. Almand, P.E., FSFPE, is the executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation.