"Everything that is electrical must also be networked"

Interview with
Vimal Mahendru, Chairman of the IEC Standardisation Management Board (SMB) and Vice President of the IEC

As Vice President of the International Electrotechnical Commission, Vimal Mahendru also wants to drive the All Electric Society forward on the standardisation side. Different regional requirements are a challenge, but also lead to solutions that have a sustainable impact across regions.

tec.news: Is the All Electric Society (AES) a holistic approach that includes all sectors?

Vimal Mahendru: You are talking about an all-electric society. In my opinion, everything that is electric must also be networked. That is the fundamental reality of the 21st century. I would like to call the AES the "All Electric and Connected Society". There is so much data around us today, which is the real fuel.


tec.news: What role does the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), which you co-chair, play in this?

Vimal Mahendru: The IEC is working on standardisation in this area. This also makes sense because applications that were not traditionally part of this are now being electrified. This applies to mobility, for example, which not only includes road transport, but also air transport and shipping. And here again, it's not just electrification, but also networking.


tec.news: And what must the sources of electrification look like?

Vimal Mahendru: I come from India, where two thirds of our electricity is generated from fossil fuels. We have realised that it is more sustainable and safer to transport electrons rather than fossil fuels.


tec.news: Does the whole system need to be considered when it comes to electricity supply?

Vimal Mahendru: If only the micro-components of the entire electricity supply chain are considered, only a small part of the efficiency can be achieved. It really becomes more efficient if you look at the entire chain, i.e. the system efficiency, instead of letting the individual components fight for their own local efficiency.


tec.news: As a global standardisation organisation, the IEC has recognised the global significance of the "All Electric Society" and has developed the vision of the "All Electric and Connected Society". What are the framework conditions and the expected effects of this vision?

Vimal Mahendru: I prefer to talk about the basics. Imagine life on earth like a three-tier wedding cake: The bottom one is the largest layer. And that is our earth, the ecosystem with environment, air, water and life. Society is the second layer of the cake. And at the top of the smallest layer is the economic cycle, in which HARTING also works. This is where value is created, society is influenced and development takes place.


tec.news: How do the levels influence each other?

Vimal Mahendru: We need to create harmony between these three levels. Only then will there be holistic development. The top level, where companies like HARTING and the IEC want to develop further, needs a developing society. And for society to develop, the planet must be healthy. If I imagine a fully electric and connected society, then it seamlessly connects the three levels of this pie. The electrons needed for this come from the base layer. How we get them, i.e. whether we pollute the earth or consume material resources, has an impact on society. And whatever happens to society, whether good or bad, will have an impact on the top layer, namely the economy.


tec.news: How is the term "All Electric Society" positioned globally? What regional differences can you identify?

Vimal Mahendru: There are many regional differences. I would like to cite India as an example. The country has the fourth largest electricity grid in the world. And yet per capita electricity consumption in India is negligible. It is only 1,100 kilowatt hours per person per year, which is a tenth of the per capita electricity consumption in industrialised countries. On the one hand, India is highly developed and is also exploring the moon, for example. On the other hand, the country is at a low level when it comes to utilising all this science and technology for the benefit of all the people in its society. The IEC as an international organisation is supported by its members and puts everyone on the same platform. But how can we bring in the different nuances from the different members?


tec.news: And how do we achieve this?

Vimal Mahendru: We also have to take into account the specific characteristics of each country. India gets most of its electricity from fossil fuels. At the same time, solar energy is available throughout the country more than 300 days a year. It would be foolish if we continue to go the way of the traditional power grid here. Does a shift to solar energy now require the construction of a large and centralised solar farm with giga-capacity? Definitely not. I think the future lies in microgrids. Again, this does not apply to all countries. But the example should give an impression of the type of regionalisation or even localisation of solutions.


tec.news: Back to the AES: What activities have already been initiated or are being planned at the IEC?

Vimal Mahendru: The IEC has already set up eight system committees. Within the organisation, these are large committees with many horizontal ideas that come from different areas of society and technology. For example, there are systems committees for smart energy, smart cities, smart manufacturing and sustainable electrified transport. These are very wide-ranging topics. They span several technological areas, but have one thing in common: they contribute to a fully electric and networked society.


tec.news: And how is the topic of sustainability addressed?

Vimal Mahendru: What we lack in IEC standardisation is the question of how we can take sustainability into account at committee level. What about material efficiency, which is built into the standards written by a technical committee? What about the carbon footprint of the product or system that a technical committee is standardising? What about the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process or the production of the product or service and during the life of the product or service, and then how is the product disposed of? The other aspect is energy efficiency. This is particularly relevant when developing the product. Are we efficient in the product development phase?


tec.news: How are international standards created for this? What specific examples can you give us?

Vimal Mahendru: A concrete example can again be found in India: in 2013, more than 320 million Indians had no access to the electricity grid. Worldwide, the figure was as high as 1.5 billion people. At the time, the Indian Prime Minister wanted to electrify the country quickly. The challenge lay in the infrastructure to be created with power plants, etc. I was head of the Indian Electrotechnical and Electronic Manufacturing Industry Association at the time and was asked for help alongside the Indian Standards Organisation. We approached the IEC because we believed that the solution lay in microgrids. But we didn't know the standards and we didn't know how to go about it. And that was the birth of a committee that I had the honour of chairing. Later, around 30 different national committees and around 50 experts were involved in the work. Last year, the IEC finally published a standard for access to electricity via DC mini-grids.


tec.news: And the standard doesn't just help in India?

Vimal Mahendru: It has also enabled many African countries to connect households to the electricity grid. The solution is very simple. It is a system standard. When you talk about an electric and connected society, the essence is to bring people who are not even in the consciousness of developed economies into an electrified world.