What are Standards?

A standard is a repeatable, harmonised, agreed and documented way of doing something. Standards contain technical specifications or other precise criteria designed to be used consistently as a rule, guideline, or definition. They help to make life simpler and increase the reliability and the effectiveness of many of the goods and services we use.

Standards result from collective work by experts in a field and provide a consensus at the time when the standards are developed. As standards in the international arena are established on a consensus and broad stakeholder basis, they represent what can be agreed upon. A published standard is therefore the harmonised synthesis of what the group is prepared to publish. In terms of international and regional standardisation, this is even more important than at the national level: the importance of consensus is critical because of large and diverse stakeholder groups and needs. Ultimately this may mean that a standard might lack some of the clarity, detail or specific criteria certain stakeholder groups or individuals would have preferred.

Standards do not necessarily have to be developed by standardisation bodies, such as ISO or the IEC. Any organization can establish standards for internal or external use. However, to be truly called a standard, the requirements stated above must be met.

How Standards Work

Adherence to standards is voluntary, unless they are a requirement of legislation or regulation, or are incorporated as part of a formal contract. To increase global tradability and compatibility of products and services, it is important that, whenever possible, standards are harmonized globally to ensure they are truly trans-boundary.

What are standards for?

Standards are an important way of protecting consumers. While consumer protection is often visible through government policies or consumer protection organisations, standards create an extra protective environment that lies behind the perception of most consumers. This is particularly true where consumers have little or no choice in what they are offered. In rural communities in developing countries, consumers do not generally have the luxury of comparing features and selecting their suppliers or products from the Internet. Therefore it is incumbent on the standards to ensure that whatever product or service is provided is fit for purpose, safe and has value. An important aspect of this protection is to ensure the product or service delivers as claimed, performs as specified, and is reliable, durable and safe.
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How Standards are Used

Standards are an important aspect of ensuring that products and services are delivered in a harmonised and consistent way, while providing consumers and users with the confidence that whatever products and services they are using deliver to specification. Many of the standards identified provide this support by ensuring that, for example: The characteristics of a particular component are measured, calculated or evaluated in a consistent way – typically these may be the determination of chemical and physical properties.

The ability exists to demonstrate the performance of the product, such as a solar photovoltaic panel or a wind turbine, against an established measurement protocol or criteria.

Sampling and sample reduction is carried out in the same repeatable manner, e.g. the sampling of solid biofuels, which have historically had wide variance in quality, even though the products were manufactured to apparently specific tolerances.

However, other standards are used to allow the facilitation of trade, or compliance with regulations and legislation, by ensuring that declarations or certificates provided for a product or service are  communicated and accepted as being to a consistent and harmonised quality or specification.

Over the last two years the Solar America Board for Codes and Standards (Solar ABC) has been calling for stronger integration of reliability standards and qualifications for PV modules into legislation based on the IEC standards. This call is aimed at ensuring that quality PV products are installed in the USA with a minimum defined standard.

In addition to the above, there are standards that provide a consistent and harmonised approach to management systems, environmental management, energy management, conformity assessment and certification.

While third-party independent certification or conformity assessment cannot be required within product and service standards, many standards are used to demonstrate compliance within certification schemes.

As stated in the introduction to this report, this approach to regulation and legislation is being  increasingly used by governments looking for consistency when delivering against policies and in particular when these policies are supporting fiscal incentives, such as Feed-in Tariffs, Renewable  Obligations Certificates, Green Certificates, Renewable Portfolio Standards, etc.

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