Driving Toward the Future

It seems that automobiles have been an industrial harbinger. More than 100,000 patents were filed in the 19th and 20th centuries and a worldwide evolution took place around the automobile. In the 1890s, the first cars were so new and unusual that they were showed in circuses! From there, various models and designs proliferated like fleas.

Power sources went from mechanical to steam to electricity to gasoline. Electricity, although cleaner and quieter, lost out to gasoline because the cars could only go 50 miles before dying.

“The first semiconductor computer chip went onboard in the mid-1970s,” according to Donald E. Petersen, President and Chairman/CEO of Ford Motor Company, 1980–1990. “Before long, microprocessors were improving just about every aspect of the vehicle—emissions, fuel economy, safety, security, engine and transmission performance, ride and handling, even seat positioning. Electronics also transformed cars and trucks into mobile entertainment and communication centers.”

Not only are vehicles now being loaded with more sophisticated technology, but the manufacturing process has increasingly been altered by technology; the resulting processes often influence manufacturing processes of other products.

Now we are seeking to leave gasoline and to give electricity another chance. Two articles in this issue explore electric transportation—both public and private. In “Electrically Charged Public Transportation,” Christel Hunter concludes that the development of better storage batteries is key to lowering the cost of battery electric vehicles. Jonathan Cadd, in “EVs, PHEVs and the Electrical Car Revolution,” weaves history and new exciting experiments together before plunging into the real world of charging issues, new codes, listing and labeling requirements, overcurrent protection and personnel safety.

In tandem with charging electric vehicles is the condition of our energy grid. Much talk can be heard about the Smart Grid, but few of us really understand what it is and when it will arrive. Therefore, we’ve reprinted an article from the Lexington Institute, “Smart Grid Implementation, Strategies for Success,” in which Dr. Rebecca Grant explains the four challenges for Smart Grid implementation: (1) smart consumers; (2) cybersecurity on the grid; (3) interoperability; and (4) smart transmission. From this article, I learned that our energy grid is one of our most critical infrastructures—one that affects every aspect of our lives and safety— and that it is sadly in need of rejuvenation.

In “Ungrounded Electrical Systems,” after explaining the differences in European and U. S. approaches to grounded vs. ungrounded electrical systems, John Wiles shows how IEC and UL standards are being harmonized and are adopting similar requirements and allowances. Inverter manufacturers can now sell transformerless inverters in the U. S., he writes, but they must be used with an ungrounded PV array (see 690.35).

Cari Williamette returns to this issue with “Ground-Fault Protection for Marinas and Boatyards,” in which she graphically discusses electric shock drowning and how little awareness the public has for basic safety. She hails the new 555.3 code as increasing marine safety, but suggests it is not a cure-all for freedom from electrical hazards.

Three articles are specifically written to inspectors. “The Value of the Electrical Inspector” by Michael Johnston reminds inspectors that our electrical systems are safe because the inspectors verify that minimum requirements are met and that the installations are essentially free of electrical hazards. In “If you don’t cover the risks, you lose,” the authors remind us to cover the risks in our jobs by using acceptable safe practices, without fail, every day.

The third article recounts how an electrical inspector was informed in the first hour of a new job that he would also be inspecting to four codes—three of which he knew nothing about! Randy Hunter shares his struggle to learn those codes quickly and how he shared with his fellow combination inspectors to strengthen their knowledge in the electrical code. This article begins a new series directed toward combination inspectors who feel a need for electrical training.

While day-to-day electrical inspections continue, nothing is normal because more is being demanded from electricity, the energy grid, and from new products. If it is true that the automobile always acts as an industrial harbinger, then we can expect another revolution worldwide.