Story No. 12: 31 years of service as an SNV expert

Expert profile of Dr Jean-Marc Suter

To conclude our series on various SNV experts, we would like to put the spotlight on Dr Jean-Marc Suter, who has been working in the field of standardization for 31 years. His more than three decades of experience as an expert means that he is able to draw on an enormous reservoir of knowledge. That made him a natural choice for our December story, for which we interviewed Dr Jean-Marc Suter about individual anecdotes and highlights of his career in international standardization. We at the SNV would like to take this opportunity to extend our heartfelt thanks to Dr Jean-Marc Suter for his great dedication and the valuable work he has accomplished as an expert and leader of various standardization projects benefiting many sectors of the Swiss economy.

His first experiences as an expert
Dr Jean-Marc Suter still remembers the very first ISO session he attended in Nice in July 1989, with two things making an impression on him in particular. First, he still remembers today that it rained incessantly throughout the week. And second, the plenary session of the technical committee ISO/TC180 was translated into French by simultaneous interpreters even though all the participants understood English.

In addition to expertise, negotiating skills are required
An impressive example demonstrates that the now 78-year-old physicist brought qualities such as specialist knowledge, patience and willingness to compromise to his work as an expert. For an ISO standard, discussions were held over a period of five years in regard to what surface should be chosen for calculating the efficiency of solar collectors. There were hard-fought economic interests involved. It was ultimately agreed that three different reference surfaces could be used, namely the gross surface, the aperture surface and the absorber surface.

This anecdote shows that it takes much more than just expertise. In addition to specialist knowledge, it is indispensable to have negotiating skills and understanding as well as respect for the sometimes quite disparate interests of the stakeholders. It is only thanks to such skills and characteristics that a lasting consensus could be found that was perceived to be fair for all involved. These and other experiences have taught Dr Jean-Marc Suter, “that it is important to compromise. A standard may ultimately be somewhat limited in its application, but for it to be useful to the market, it needs to work for everyone.”

Emotions also play a role in standardization
When Dr Jean-Marc Suter attended a standardization meeting in the 1990s, a test procedure for uncovered solar collectors was discussed, for which it was necessary to come to an agreement on three or four parameters. One participant had recently written a doctoral thesis on the subject, while a scientist referred to test results from a renowned European testing laboratory. When the committee decided on three parameters after several hours of discussion, the advocate of the fourth parameter left the session, sat down on the stairs outside and burst into tears. While the standards to which individual products and applications are subjected are not visible to most consumers, Dr Jean-Marc Suter’s experience here clearly demonstrates that the process of creating standards can actually be quite charged with emotion.

It is not only companies and experts who can have opinions that differ; public authorities can also diverge in the interests they represent. An example of this would be in the drafting of a hot water standard, with Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health and Federal Office of Energy having different requirements for hygiene and energy efficiency.

Patience and precision lead to a masterpiece
When asked about the highlight of his 31 years of standardization work, it does not take long for Dr Jean-Marc Suter to come up with an answer. The three-language terminology standard ISO 9488, in which 162 terms were defined, was brought to publication by him in 1999 after 10 years of detailed work. Each term had to be checked and adjusted to accommodate nuances of language in the individual countries. The standard adopted at the time, which is currently being revised, can be called his personal masterpiece.

The future belongs to technology combinations
Dr Jean-Marc Suter’s inspiration has always been his interest in technology that is close to his heart. Suter sees the real potential of solar energy systems in combination with other technologies – such as solar energy and storage.

Storage of solar energy continues to be a hotly debated topic today, and it is commonly believed that no sufficient solution for storing heat from summer for use in winter has been found. Suter finds this astonishing because an energy technology company in Burgdorf, Switzerland, proved that it was possible to store solar energy in 1991. To do so, the company filled a swimming pool in January with hot water it had stored in August. Dr Jean-Marc Suter is looking forward to future solar energy being able to be successfully combined with other technologies to a much greater extent. It is also important to him that hygiene rules are observed not only in solar water heating systems but in all hot water supplies.

Dr Jean-Marc Suter

Dr Jean-Marc Suter is the founder and owner of Suter Consulting and a renowned expert in the field of solar energy use. He led a team of researchers at the Swiss National Research Centre (now the Paul Scherrer Institute in Aargau) and taught physics. He has also been lecturing in the field of renewable energy since 1984 and speaks four languages. Dr Jean-Marc Suter has made significant contributions to the development of several complex technical manuals and numerous standards. He is an expert on standardization in the field of solar energy use (e.g. ISO 9488) as well as on solar power systems for heating drinking water in buildings (EN 12977-1 to 3); was active in various working groups in ISO/TC180, CEN/TC312, CEN/TC164 and CEN/TC228; and chaired the national standardization committee INB/NK144 for many years.

Image caption: The 78-year-old expert likes to spend his free time in the mountains
and has been a tour guide for the Swiss Alpine Club for 20 years.

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