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Power Oriented


A look at the 2017 NEC. BY Jeffrey Sargent


AS THE 2014 EDITION OF the National Electrical Code® approaches mid-cycle, nine new articles have been proposed for the 2017 edition of the NEC®, with four resulting in first revisions. Of those, three focus on the generation, distribution, and storage of electrical power, areas of considerable interest and activity in the electrical industry.


Proposed Article 691, Large-Scale Photovoltaic (PV) Electric Supply Stations, covers PV supply stations with a generating capacity of 5,000 kilowatts or more. The systems covered by this article differ from those covered in existing NEC Article 690, in that the power generated by a large-scale PV electric supply station is solely for the purpose of supplying power to an electric utility transmission or distribution system at medium or transmission-level voltages. Such facilities already exist and more are planned. Article 690 is oriented to utility-interactive or stand-alone systems that are used to directly supply a premises wiring system and is not a good fit for PV-generating facilities of this magnitude.


Proposed Article 706, Energy Storage Systems, provides requirements covering permanently installed systems that can be stand-alone or interactive with other electric power production sources. Historically, lead-acid batteries—and, more recently, new battery technologies used for energy storage—have been covered in Article 480. However, batteries are not the only form of energy storage devices available today. Flow batteries, capacitors, flywheels, and compressed air are other forms. The proposed article centralizes the requirements for all energy storage technologies, including the current requirements in Article 480, into a single NEC article.

Proposed Article 712, DC Microgrids, covers direct-current power systems where DC sources such as photovoltaic, wind turbines, and fuel cells supply power directly into a distribution system to supply DC utilization equipment such as LED lighting, communications equipment, computers and servers, variable speed motors, heating/ventilating/air conditioning equipment, and more. Efficiency is gained as the typical DC–AC, and then AC–DC, conversions are eliminated. DC distribution systems of this nature are currently being used in data centers throughout the world, and could in fact be used in any setting where on-site DC generation supply, such as a PV system, is used to supply a distribution system. Coupled with energy storage capability, such systems also provide for a reliable on-site system that is uncoupled from the typical offsite power system and thus not subject to interruptions occurring in the offsite sources.


The fourth first revision, Article 425, Fixed Resistance and Electrode Industrial Heating Process Equipment, covers equipment such as boilers, electrode boilers, immersion heaters, process air heaters, and other equipment that is used in a variety of industrial processes. The proponent of this revision cites a need for installers, designers, and authorities having jurisdiction to have a set of requirements for the safe installation of such equipment, which can have operating voltages ranging from 480 V up to medium voltage class (13.8 kV).


The other five recommendations for new NEC articles did not achieve first revision status, but are open for public comment (as are the four first revisions) that could result in their inclusion in the 2017 NEC.


More than 4,000 public inputs were processed for the 2017 edition of the code, from which 1,235 first revisions or changes were developed. The first draft report is scheduled for public access in mid July, and comments on the first revisions can be submitted online until September 25; paper submittals are due August 21. The revision process for the code will culminate with the issuance of the 2017 NEC in August 2016.



JEFFREY SARGENT is a regional electrical code specialist for NFPA.


Safe Home Alabama


Fighting off a bid to remove arc fault circuit interrupters from the state's building code.


IN SEPTEMBER, the Alabama Energy and Residential Code Board met to consider a proposal to remove the requirement of arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) from the state’s Residential Building Code. The proposal, supported by a homebuilders group, would affect new construction of one- and two-family homes. AFCIs were simply too expensive, the homebuilders argued; by their own estimate, AFCI installation in a typical home costs about $300.



The September meeting followed a hearing in August that included testimony from AFCI supporters like Charlie Donaghe and members of Alabama’s fire service. In 1971, Donaghe and his sister were seriously burned in a home fire, the result of a damaged power cord to a television—exactly the kind of problem AFCIs are designed to prevent. AFCIs respond to electrical failures that are typically beyond the functional level of most standard circuit breakers and fuses. Had the cord of their television been protected by an AFCI, it is likely that Donaghe and his sister would have slept safely through that night more than 40 years ago.

“How does spending $300 compare to the cost of being hospitalized, treated for burns for months, and the lifelong impact of these injuries?” Donaghe told the hearing, according to the Associated Press. He urged the board not to “turn the clock back to the ’70s” by approving the amendment. “Why would you end the use of something that’s proven and affordable to prevent children and families from dying in an electrical house fire?,” he said. “If you have successfully used this technology to make a difference, why would you just push that away?”



Donaghe’s testimony was supported by Edward Paulk, the state fire marshal, and Chief Gary Sparks, president of the Alabama Association of Fire Chiefs. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, Sparks said, Alabama was third in the nation in fire death rate and relative risk, behind only Mississippi and Washington D.C.; removing the AFCI requirement from the building code for new one- and two-family homes “is a step backwards,” he said. Sparks said Alabama had 94 fire fatalities in 2014 and has had 62 so far this year.



Several years ago, the Alabama Homebuilders Association successfully lobbied against residential sprinklers. At the AFCI hearing in August, the group’s spokesperson was one of two people (the other one was a homebuilder) supporting the elimination of AFCIs from the state’s residential building code. They cited cost, as well as inconsistent enforcement, as reasons to support the amendment. If the board sided with the homebuilders, Alabama would join Indiana as the only states, of the 47 with statewide building codes, to amend AFCIs out of the code.



Alabama isn’t the only state where this battle is being fought. In North Carolina, the state’s Building Code Council is considering a proposal—again supported by homebuilders, citing cost—that would prevent adoption of the 2014 edition of the National Electrical Code® (NEC®), which expands AFCI use into kitchens and laundry areas in new construction. A vote is scheduled for December.



On September 17, Alabama’s Residential Code Board met to decide the issue of AFCIs in the state building code. Instead of voting on the matter, it created a new amendment where the building code would reference the NEC, with its requirements for AFCIs. Alabama’s building code currently operates under the 2008 edition of the NEC, and local jurisdictions can adopt subsequent editions. Another public hearing on the new amendment is scheduled for November, with a vote slated for December.



The good news is that safety advocates were heard, and we won a battle. But the war continues.


Jeff Sargent is a regional electrical code specialist for NFPA. You can read more by Jeff here jsargent