June 28, 2023
Accelerating the Clean Energy Future
By Dr. David Steel, executive director of UL Standards & Engagement
The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair ushered in the electric age, and with it, fears of buildings burning down. Rather than give way to fear, William Henry Merrill Jr. considered the potential of the electrical revolution and how to protect and accelerate progress. With that, Underwriters Laboratories was born.
What was true then is true today: without safety, the capacity for innovation will be stifled. And at UL Standards & Engagement (ULSE), we are working to reinforce our legacy of supporting advancement — from our history in aviation and automobiles, to our future in automation and clean energy — through safety standards.
It is our responsibility and privilege to put safety science in action. Our 1,700 standards are informed by more than 4,000 experts from manufacturers, government, nonprofits, academia, and more that currently advise and vote on standards.
We are channeling that expertise into new standards that will help chart the path for clean energy — a path where we are engaged at every point. Through standards, we can help accelerate the reinvention of energy generation, distribution, storage, and consumption.
A growing body of UL Standards on clean energy
The clean energy future is a complex value chain that requires us to think differently — about the standards we’re developing and the ones we have today that we view as dynamic documents that can and must adapt to a changing world.
A few areas of focus include:
Harnessing alternative sources. We have a significant number of standards today that support wind and solar power systems. As new alternatives like hydrogen emerge, we are exploring how to support its advancement.
Supporting safer expansion of batteries and electric vehicles (EVs). Electric vehicle sales surged 55% from 2021 to 2022, and with aggressive targets set by the Biden administration, the state of California, and companies like General Motors, millions of new EVs will take the road each year. Making the batteries and energy storage systems for EVs safer will help make goals a reality.
Designing for resource mindfulness. Our standard for repurposing batteries supports prolonging their lifespan and reducing what materials end up in landfills. We’re also looking at the possibilities of windy or sunny days to feed energy back to the grid or how your EV can power your home.
It’s an exciting future. It is not an assured one. Safety allows innovation to have its intended impact.
We’ve seen what happens when the unintended consequences of change get ahead of safety. Potential is replaced by restrictions and bans that slow or stop progress. It is the easiest — and arguably laziest — solution.
There is a better way forward, and standards can help find it. For example, the recent spate of devastating lithium-ion e-bike battery fires initially prompted the New York City Housing Authority to propose a ban on e-bikes and scooters. The move would have cut off access to a form of transportation many of the city’s residents depend on, not only to get around, but in many cases, for work as delivery drivers.
Ultimately, the ban didn’t go forward, and the city passed a law that any e-mobility device sold, rented, or leased in New York must conform to UL standards — standards that guard against thermal runaway that starts fires. It’s set to go into effect in September.
We can protect and progress. Whether it’s lithium batteries or any part of the clean energy value chain, safety and innovation must be inextricably linked. And our standards are a critical part of that linkage.