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TECH

What you need to know about the EU’s plan for a uniform phone charger

The European Union has approved a new regulation that would force tech companies to use a standard charger for mobile phones and electronic devices. What does this mean?

What you need to know about the EU's plan for a uniform phone charger
The European Union will require all manufacturers use the same USB Type C for charging ports in certain devices. (Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash)

The European Parliament has approved an agreement establishing a single charging solution for frequently used small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. The law will make it mandatory for specific devices that are rechargeable via a wired cable to be equipped with a USB Type-C port.

The rules have been debated for a while, and the announcement of the agreement has caused controversy, especially among tech companies and enthusiasts. US giant Apple has repeatedly lobbied against the standardisation, saying it halts innovation.

The EU says that the new rules will lead to more re-use of chargers and “help consumers save up to €250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases”. Disposed of and unused chargers are estimated to represent about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, the bloc says.

So, what exactly are the changes?

Which products will be affected?

According to the European Parliament, the new rules are valid for small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. This includes mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and portable speakers that are rechargeable via a wired cable.

Laptops will also have to be adapted, the EU says.

Those devices will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port regardless of their manufacturer.

When will the changes come?

For most devices, the changes are set to come by autumn of 2024. However, the date is not yet set because the regulations need to go to other proceedings within the EU bureaucracy.

After the summer recess, The EU’s Parliament and Council need to formally approve the agreement before publication in the EU Official Journal. It enters into force 20 days after publication, and its provisions start to apply after 24 months, hence the “autumn 2024” expectation.

Rules for laptops are a bit different, and manufacturers will have to adapt their products to the requirements by 40 months after the entry into force of the laws.

Where are the rules valid?

The rules will be valid for products sold or produced in the European Union and its 27 member countries. But, of course, they will likely affect manufacturers and promote more considerable scale changes.

The USB-C cable, with the rounded edges, will be the standard for charging in the EU (Photo by مشعال بن الذاهد on Unsplash)

Why the uniform USB Type-C?

The bloc said the uniform charger is part of a broader EU effort to make products more sustainable, reduce electronic waste, and make consumers’ lives easier.

“European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device”, EU Parliament’s rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba said.

USB Type-C is a standard of charging that has been around for a while but still is one of the best options currently in the market. Also known as USB-C, it allows for reliable, inexpensive, and fast charging. A USB-C port can also be input or output, meaning that it can both send and receive charges and data.

Unlike other ports, it can be the same on both ends of the wire (making it easier and more universal in its use). It can also power devices and sends data much faster.

USB-C can also be used for video and audio connections, so some external monitors can charge your laptop and show your screen simultaneously with the same cable.

What criticism is there?

The project is not without criticism, most vocally from US tech giant Apple, a company that famously has its own charging standard, the “lightning” connection.

Apple claims that forcing a standardisation will prevent innovation, holding all companies to the same technology instead of allowing for experimentation. Still, Apple itself has been swapping to USB-C. Its iPads have already dropped the lightning standard. Its newer laptops can now be charged with the MagSafe proprietary connector and USB-C.

Apple iPhones are still charged with the company’s lightning ports – or wirelessly (Photo by Brandon Romanchuk on Unsplash)

The company’s popular earbuds and peripherals (including keyboards and mice) all charge with lightning. And, of course, the iPhone, Apple’s smartphone, also uses the company’s connection for charging.

While there have been rumours that Apple is working on new iPhones with USB-C connection (though definitely not for the next launch this year’s), the company could go away with wired charging altogether. Instead, like many tech manufacturers, Apple is improving its wireless charging solutions, even creating products dedicated to its MagSafe charging.

It won’t be completely free from the EU regulation if it does that, though. This is because the rules approved by the EU also allow the European Commission to develop so-called “delegated acts” concerning wireless charging. The delegated acts are faster processes that can be applied directly without being put to the vote.

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For members

ENERGY

Air conditioning limits: How Spain’s new energy-saving plan affects you

The first part of the Spanish government’s new energy-saving plan to cut fossil fuel consumption came into force on Wednesday. Here's what you need to know about the main changes, from new rules for shop lighting to temperature limits.

Air conditioning limits: How Spain's new energy-saving plan affects you

The  government’s ‘Energy Saving Plan’, includes a wide-ranging series of energy-saving measures focused on public buildings, transport hubs, cultural spaces, hotels, shops, department stores and other commercial spaces.

The first part of the plan focuses mainly on lighting and temperature control, which includes the requirement for window lighting to be turned off by 10pm and for the air conditioning to be set at a minimum of 27C in summer and the heat a maximum of 19C in winter.

The plan comes into force this Wednesday from 10pm, however, by midnight on Tuesday and into the early hours on Wednesday morning, many of Spain’s public buildings and large department stores had already gone dark.

Spain’s Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, explained that the measures will be in force until at least November 1st 2023.

READ ALSO – Shop lights out and air con set at 27C: What is Spain’s energy saving plan?

Will all establishments have to set their air conditioning to a limit of 27C in summer?

It was originally reported that all establishments would have to set their aircon to a minimum of 27C, however, later on August 5th, Ribera confirmed that the rule to limit indoor temperatures is “flexible” and that bars and restaurants would not be required to set the aircon at 27C exactly.

“If a different temperature is set, but it is justified, it will be allowed,” Teresa Ribera said in an interview with Catalunya Ràdio. With regards to bars and restaurants, the minister confirmed that “the working legislation recommends the temperature to be around 25C,” she explained later on Onda Cero radio. 

Other places such as nightclubs, gyms, hospitals, trains, and buses will also not need to set the temperature to a minimum of 27C in summer and the heat to a maximum of 19C in winter. They are to be given slightly more flexibility.

Establishments that will have to abide by the strict temperature limit, however, will include supermarkets, transport hubs such as airports and train stations, shopping malls, public administration buildings and cultural venues.

The decree states that health and safety provisions in the workplace prevail over the plan, which sets a temperature of between 17C and 27C in places where sedentary work is carried out, and between 14C and 25C where light work is carried out.

The Spanish government has calculated that for each degree the thermostat is turned up in summer and down in winter, it will save 7 percent in gas consumption.

Which buildings will go dark?

From Wednesday night, according to the decree only shop windows and public buildings that are closed and empty after 10pm must turn off their lights. If they are open past this time, the lights can stay on.

The restriction does not apply to illuminated monuments, signs or billboards, meaning that icons such as Barcelona’s Sagrada Família, Madrid’s Cibeles Fountain and Seville’s La Giralda will stay lit past 10pm.

The rules will also not affect street lighting, so streets will remain well-lit to avoid safety concerns.

“The new measures will apply to buildings. The rules do not apply to exterior lighting, either street lighting, or lighting for ornamental reasons in places other than buildings,” Ribera pointed out last week.

The aim of the plan is to increase energy saving and efficiency, cut costs, encourage a move to more sustainable fuels and renewable energy, amid climate change and a volatile energy market caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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