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 July 2007
From the Editor's Desk

Energy for Changing Times

As we were compiling this issue of SN on alternative energy sources, with its emphasis on the standardization of solar panels, the International Space Station was outfitted with a partial set of new solar arrays. After earth-bound Mission Control remotely removed the panels from their storage boxes as the astronauts slept, the 35-metre panels unfurled in the manner of accordion window blinds. Like photosynthesizing leaves, the arrays rotate to follow the sun and power the station.

The photovoltaic effect — the process of converting light to electricity — was discovered by French physicist Alexandre Becquerel in 1839. Perhaps the early scientists who further developed the technology in laboratories around the world did not imagine that one day the fruit of their work would provide power for international teams of astronauts floating 350 kilometres above Earth. Nor in the earliest days of industrial standardization following Becquerel’s discovery would many have envisioned the extensive body of knowledge represented in the standards of ASTM International Committee E44 on Solar, Geothermal and Other Alternative Energy Sources.

For such a small group, Committee E44’s numerous standards have big global relevance, so to speak. With under 100 members, Committee E44 maintains almost 50 standards, many of which are cited in International Electrotechnical Commission qualification tests for photovoltaics. The photovoltaic standards of Committee E44 are used around the world to measure the performance of photovoltaic devices, calibrate radiometers and more. In addition, the committee develops standards for geothermal energy, the “hot renewable” available 24 hours a day in naturally occurring hydrothermal reservoirs beneath the Earth’s surface.

The contribution of this small and productive committee to this issue of SN is impressive as well. Beginning on page 30, you will find four articles on the various E44 activities that provide needed standards for alternative energy sources. In addition to Committee E44’s contribution, see also the thorough overview of the current state of nuclear energy technology in the article beginning on page 46, contributed by Committee E10 on Nuclear Technology and Applications.

Solar energy is a natural choice for humankind’s expansion into space, but all renewable energy sources are welcome alternatives as we cope with climate change and dwindling nonrenewable resources back here on Earth. As with so many other technologies of the future, ASTM International is there, providing its standards development process to ensure technology transfer and development. //

Maryann Gorman
Editor in Chief