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08 August 2018

Changing Standards



When cars with internal combustion engines began to appear around the turn of the twentieth century, one of the obvious issues for the adopters of the new technology was the availability of the petrol necessary to make the things go. Fuel had to be transported around the country, stored in big tanks and those tanks connected to pumps - originally manual ones - to get the fuel into the vehicle’s operating system. That was a pretty serious logistical challenge, but one that had to be overcome in order for the new vehicles to realise their potential.

The world moves on, and as it was with petrol, so it now is with electricity. Well, sort of; the challenges are different. The ability to get electricity distributed is something we largely take for granted. Homes, factories, offices - pretty much every part of our lives is built on our consumption of electricity to make things work. So since the network exists, adapting it to power electric vehicles should presumably be pretty straightforward.

Well, it should be, but different commercial interests appear to make it more difficult than one might expect. By and large, we have learned to accommodate the different types of charger for our different mobile phones; after all, they are all so small that it’s easy enough to make sure we have the right adapters with us when we travel. With a car, though, it’s a bit more complicated and carrying the big, clunky bits of kit to make sure one always has the right socket is not really an option, unless you don’t want to take any other luggage in the car. 

We are familiar with the cry from the Brexiteers that the EU wants to standardise everything, even bananas and cucumbers. Well, so far there seems to be no standard for electric vehicle recharging points, and different regulators and different manufacturers all seem to have their own ideas of what is best. I suppose it’s a bit like a rerun of the VHS/Betamax battle of the 1980s.

Lat week, I thought I’d take my car to the local supermarket in the village of Puyvert, in the Luberon in southern France, as it had a charging point and the car could take a fill of electricity. I thought I was pretty familiar with all the various charging sockets, but this one was totally new to me - it didn’t look like any one I had seen before. Well, the electricity was free, but my BMW plug couldn’t fit the socket, so it was all a bit pointless. Incidentally, parked next to me for the same purpose was a Tesla - it didn’t fit that, either. I was, of course, not too concerned, since my car is a hybrid; what the Tesla driver did, I have no idea, but he didn’t get to recharge there, where he thought he could. 

There is a serious point here, which won’t affect the usage of metals, except that the provision of simple, universal charging is a requirement for the wider spread of electric vehicles. If recharging isn’t straightforward, the growth of the market will be held back.

So, in this case, EU Commission, could we have a rapid action? Let’s have regulated standards for EV recharging connectors in place for EU members before Brexit, so we all have the same.



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On a totally different subject, how on earth did we ever get here? Seventy-five years ago, across continental Europe, people were being industrially murdered for nothing more than their ethno-religious background. From hearing my parents’ generation, I believe they were truly shocked, horrified, by the newsreel footage that came out of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen and then by the unravelling stories of what had been happening since the Wannsee conference of 1942. It must never happen again, was the watchword of the hundreds of thousands who came back to the UK, the US, Canada, France, Australia and all the others. So how depressing is it that just seventy-five years on we have an opposition party in the UK that seems incapable of extricating itself from accusations - widely based - of anti-semitism? At the same time, the second-in-command of that same opposition party seems to be proposing the establishment of “groups” to “fight” against what they call the “far right”. Hmm, I’ve studied quite a lot of German history and that sounds ominously like the SA, very many of whose members were ex-communists and expected the NSDAP to enact the policies of the ‘S’ bit in its title.

Anyway, this stuff is not what I want to write about - this website is after all supposed to focus on things broadly concerning the metals business - but we can’t ignore it. The UK is not and probably never has been perfect, but for generations it has been a beacon of freedom, honour and decency. What’s happening here is an invidious evil creeping in; the people involved deserve to be buried deeper than the Philippines’ Trench. Decent people need to make sure it doesn’t go any further, whether the electoral arithmetic makes it attractive for their party or not. Keeping quiet is not an option.   

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