January 2022 | Vol. 27 No.1
by Jack Lyons, Northeast Technical Field Representative, NEMA
As we prepare for the next step in the electrification of America, let us examine how innovative electrical products delivered safety codes and rules to safeguard the public in the past and continue to do so today.
For example, buildings housed new electrical products near the end of the 19th century. Modern inventions, such as lighting, battery systems, electric cars, and motors, were created and manufactured for humans to create a better life. The second industrial revolution moved from mechanically powered systems to electrically powered systems. Lighting went from gas to electricity. Utilities installed centralized DC and AC power supply systems.
Unfortunately, there can be a downside and danger with electrical innovation—fire and shock. The electrical industry recognized the need for a standardized code to protect people and property from those electrical hazards, so industry leaders formed the beginning of the National Electrical Code® (NEC) in 1897. The NEC is published today by the National Fire Protection Association or NFPA.
Today, we see highly efficient motors and their controls helping to provide extremely efficient heating and cooling methods. Lighting systems are wired and powered by unconventional power sources and wiring methods. The number of electric vehicles (EVs) on our roads has increased dramatically, as have the amount of EV charging stations. Localized microgrids have changed the power production distribution layout and use sustainable power production resources and energy storage to create private enterprises. Those enterprises are not classified as utilities; therefore they are covered by NEC installation rules.
Still, there are concerns within the electrical industry. When installers use interconnecting multiple power production sources in microgrids, whether AC or DC, some concerns are: back-feeding systems, ensuring safe automatic transfer of power, protection of wires and equipment, and worker protection when servicing this equipment. The NEC is always fine-tuning rules to address these issues and other concerns involving microgrids.
Low voltage power supplies power some lighting systems through an internal network system. The wiring, in some cases, not only transmits power to a luminaire but will also communicate with it for control purposes. As we increase the use of variable frequency drives and other electronic control devices for motors (referred to as Power Conversion Equipment), rules need to be modified to protect the entire system adequately from overloads and other hazards. We have existing regulations that deal with many of these issues. Still, when innovation changes how the NEC approaches the installation, the NEC must also change and adapt to new technology.
The NEC and energy codes are needed to ensure electricity's safe and efficient use in residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional occupancies. We recognize that resources are limited, carbon emissions are increasing, and innovative ideas of using electricity better are upon us today. The NEC must be vigilant to address all hazards that may result in the use of electricity using new and innovative products as we start the next movement of the electrification of America.