An Energy Wikipedia

“Today, any buyer, owner operator or investor who is sophisticated in the wind industry speaks in terms of IEC terminology: a wind class, a turbine design class, turbulence levels, and so on. Everybody understands what is meant. The conversation is more fruitful and constructive and expectations are set more accurately.”

This statement by Sandy Butterfield, Chief Technical Officer at Boulder Wind Power and Chair of Technical Committee 88 (Wind Turbines) at the International Electrotechnical Commission, could equally be applied to terminology generated by all 95 IEC Technical Committees and 79 Sub-committees. The IEC has played an immensely important role in defining industry terminology – and its influence, and the number of committees, is likely to grow.

The combined definitions form the “International Electrotechnical Vocabulary” (IEV), which is publicly available in English and French on

Electropedia is arranged into subject areas with a general search function. Below each entry are lists of equivalents in 14 languages from Arabic to Swedish.

Built from the Ground Up

One of the strengths of Electropedia is that it is not a product of an abstract exercise in encyclopedia-publishing. All the terms were drafted by experts seeking to develop useful, commercially relevant, standards for professionals in electrotechnical industries. The IEC is one of the three major standards-setting organisations at an international level, alongside the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

Standardization is not possible if key concepts are open to different interpretations. Definition of terminology is the starting point for all standardization and harmonization activities undertaken by the IEC.

Terminology at the IEC is built from the ground up. Each IEC technical committee ensures the terms in its documents are properly defined.

The IEC’s Technical Committee (TC) 1 is responsible for the harmonization of terminology across the TCs. It sanctions the English and French terms and definitions used in the different electrotechnical fields in the Electropedia. The IEV national committees are responsible for providing the equivalent terms used in the other languages. All of the IEC TCs follow strict rules shared with the ISO (monitored and maintained by ISO TC 37). The Electropedia has additional guidelines to ensure the fulfilment its aim: “The IEV is “standardization-oriented”, and is intended to help the standards writer to prepare standards, and to help the standards users to understand and implement them.”

Electropedia is not a comprehensive encyclopedia of electrotechnical terms. The range of terminology included reflects the very practical concerns of the TCs. IEC standards are performance-based and include testing methodologies and design requirements. It is limited to terms affecting the interconnection or interoperability of electrotechnical products, services, processes and systems.

Electropedia’s sections start with the foundations, gradually branching into the terminology of more specialized subjects and sectors. Therefore, Area 101 is concerned with Mathematics terminology; Area 111 covers Physics and Chemistry, and Area 113 the Physics for Electrotechnology.

Other Areas cover the terminology around quality, materials and components, units and measurement, electronics, power generation, power control and transmission.

But, reflecting the IEC’s concern with processes and systems, there is also an Area on the organization of the electricity market (Area 617) which includes definitions of concepts such as ‘reliability’, ‘quality’ and ‘security’ through to ‘smart grid’ ‘connection agreement’ and ‘demand response’. The terminology of Electricity Tariffs also gets its own area (Area 691).

There is considerable scope for overlap between Rotating Machinery (Area 411) and Wind Turbine Generator Systems (Area 415). Though, the Wind Turbine Generator Systems group sector concerns neatly, with definitions ranging from ‘hub’, ‘nacelle’ and ‘parking brake’, through design and safety terminology, to wind characteristics, electrical interconnection, power performance measurement, and acoustic measurement techniques.

Industry use – the acid test

The definitions tend to be straightforward. For instance, ‘transmission of electricity’ is defined as “the transfer in bulk of electricity, from generating stations to areas of consumption”.

Terminology standardization often involves the pursuit of clarity, transparency and precision, without losing sight of factors such as the political connotations of the term in everyday use, or perhaps the user-friendliness of the term. Once a draft document has been agreed, it is sent to national bodies who vote on its acceptability.

The international aspect of the IEC’s work helps the definition process, according to Joanna Goodwin, Terminology Coordinator at the IEC:

“When a document is balloted it is submitted in English and French. From a terminology perspective, it is a good methodology. One arrives at a better quality definition if one has more than one language. The terms in other languages are contributed by the national committees after they receive a copy of the draft.”

The acid test for terminology is not its successful inclusion in an IEC standard document. Success is achieved when that terminology becomes the dominant usage in the industry – a de facto standard. Common terminology is used because it helps achieve interconnectivity and interoperability, not because it has some kind of legal backing.

Movement of terminology into common use can be affected by a range of factors.  Early agreement between major market players will result in rapid uptake of the new terminology and the creation of de facto standards. In those situations, the IEC may play little more than a rubber-stamping role.

Electropedia can also play a role in moving terminology from ‘de jure’ acceptance to de facto standard.

The web site includes strict definitions of terms that appear rather unscientific. For example, in Risk Assessment (Area 903) there are definitions of ‘arm’s reach’ and ‘tolerable risk’. They drive home the point that Electropedia is a tool that can prove useful to stakeholders without direct involvement in the design, manufacture or installation of electrotechnical solutions.

“Today wind turbines are bankable and standards have helped build that trust,” says Sandy Butterfield. “They reassure the financial community and regulators that machines were designed to some objective third party process; that they have been reviewed according to some rules that the entire industry agreed upon.

Reaching new communities

Reaching out to new communities should be an important goal for the IEC according to Sandy Butterfield. He wants to promote closer involvement with countries that are just beginning to enter the wind industry. “The opportunity for the IEC is to seek to understand what their local requirements are and facilitate their adoption of an international standard rather than having them create a national standard. “

Similarly, he wants to build awareness among other professional communities of the IEC’s work. Increasing their understanding of IEC standards will facilitate harmonization, he says.

In the wind sector, for example, the installers of a turbine have a major effect on the turbine’s performance.

“Half of the technology is made in a well-controlled environment, in a factory; the other half is assembled out in the field,” says Butterfield. “We do a great job of controlling the quality in that factory and not a very good job sometimes of controlling the quality of the installation. “

There has been an explosion in recent years of the numbers of people using standards and seeking the benefits of standardization. That is reflected at the IEC.

“We are constantly revising and creating new standards and Electropedia has lagged a little. We want to bring it up to date, adding the terminology from the new TCs”, says Joanna Goodwin. “Once a technical committee has concluded a document, they tend to move on. They have little time or resource to devote to dissemination of their new terminology.

“We want to expand Electropedia,” says Goodwin. “to include the revised and new concepts that are not in the International Electrotechnical Vocabulary.“

The success of more open approaches, such as Wikipedia, is also influencing her thinking. Electropedia will never be as open as Wikipedia, she insists. Its value is in the quality of its definitions. But she would like to streamline and speed up the transfer of terminology from accepted documents into the IEV.

About Aedan Kernan

Aedan is a business communications specialist with interests in the development of new technologies and in environmental issues. He is a former managing editor of Supply Network magazine and former editor of Industry Europe. He has edited or written Annual Reports for public limited companies in the UK and the Netherlands. Aedan has also written extensively for Higher Education institutions, mainly on research and internal management issues.

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