Thursday, October 29, 2015

My two cents on Implementation of a Single Standard for Plugs and Socket Outlets in Sri Lanka for Non-industrial Applications

The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) today held a Public hearing to gather ideas from different stakeholders on the topic of "Implementation of a Single Standard for Plugs and Socket Outlets in Sri Lanka for Non-industrial Applications". My 2 cents on this topic, that follows as a result of presenting views in the open session as well as listening to all the speakers is given below.

Implementation of a Single Standard for Plugs and Socket Outlets in Sri Lanka
for Non-industrial Applications

My Recommendation: Do not accept the proposal 

Primary Reason: Too many drastic changes effected simultaneously. It should not be implemented without a more in-depth study into social and economic ramifications of this decision. 

Secondary Reason: Socket incompatibility is not the primary cause for the problems that are tried to be addressed by standardizing the SO to one type.  It is a secondary cause. Enough studies are not conducted about the cost on the economy and the methods to address the transition.

Suggested alternate solution: The primary concerns are to be addressed first and if the actions can be deemed successful next move towards standardizing the SO.

Technical aspects to be considered:

1.      Using 13A SO in 6A with emboss – Product design aspects – will the emboss work in a practical situation? – else any other solution needs to be found.
2.      When 5A is phased out – 13A will be mandatory – In cases where the cost is lower when 5A is used there will be a financial disadvantage to the users – Need to study the economic effect in depth and offer solutions to mitigate the effects. Government subsidy for people who cannot afford 13 A covering the extra cost spent to install 13 A circuit instead of 6A circuit. 
3.      What consists a good SO and a bad SO? Contact area or Contact resistance or maximum number of times it can be used or will the only gauge be contact resistance? A proper gauge needs to be used to compare the different SOs. Are type tests required for SOs? This is needed to ensure that the products are really of the proper quality and the manufacturers get a level playing field. The available standards of SLSI should be re-evaluated and given proper weight age in the examination process. 

Economic aspects to be considered

1.      Standardization will require the goods to be imported with 13A SO only. Therefore the common products for the South Asian market (1700 million people) will need to be modified before importing to Sri Lanka (20 million people). This will cause an increase in the cost of the goods. Need to study how much this cost is and ways to mitigate the effect of this problem.
2.      Class 2 (2 pin) Plugs will need to be modified to the Standard 13 A SO. How is this issue addressed in countries like UK. Even for small electronic equipment like phone chargers this will be a legal requirement. The costs will be high and the ease of use will be compromised. How is this problem mitigated? Maybe single adapters can be used. In this case how do we differentiate equipment that need to be 3 pin 13A and equipment where 2 pin is allowed with respect to import regulations?

Legal aspects to be considered

1.      PUCSL consultation paper itself shows the large loop holes in laws, as a result of which at present only 5A, 13A and 16A SOs are mandatory to be covered by the quality standards.

Although these standards are available, there are no regulations to ban plugs, socket outlets and socket outlet adaptors which do not comply with these standards. As a result, various low quality plugs, socket outlets and adaptors continue to be sold openly in the market.

The other types of SO and equipment plugs do not have any such requirement opening a loop hole to let in other types without a quality standard requirement. This creates a skewed playing field leaning towards the non standard SOs and plugs. First create and change the laws to cover this loop hole.

2.      PUCSL consultation paper presents the fact that even for the 5A, 13A and 15A SO where standards are prevalent, the quality is not checked by any of the consumer protection institutions.
“It is also noted that the Consumer Affairs Authority or any other agency has not enforced a ban on import and sale of non-compliant appliances. According to the gazette, only the 5 A & 15 A plugs, socket outlets and adaptors, and 13 A plugs and socket outlets that are imported should comply with the standards, but there is no control over other types of plugs and socket outlets imported to the country.”

If the existing laws cannot be practically enforced what is the point of making more rules which still will not be implemented. Suggest finding the reasons for non-implementation and making sure that the current laws are enforced before adding even more laws.

Safety aspects to be considered

Though the paper suggests that non existence of a single standard SO is the reason for causing un-safe operation I believe that it is but a secondary reason. The main reasons are of two fold. First is the weak and non-existent consumer protection. Second is the unawareness of consumers/industry about safe use of electricity.
1.      Even in high end shopping malls like Arpico extremely dangerous (cheap) multi sockets are sold. In fact as of this moment we have round pin (6A) multi sockets protected by a 6A fuse as well as the same protected by a 13A fuse. The other side of having these cheap but unsafe and dangerous adapters is that there is no possibility of buying safe and high quality multi-sockets/adapters, since they are not sold due to null demand as a result of higher prices. This issue needs to be tackled by first making quality standards for multi sockets and adapters for SL initially focusing on the safety aspect (The same needs to be done for extension codes). Then these should be made into laws. Finally means need to make available to protect and enforce these laws. Safety in this respect cannot be compromised and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the citizens are protected from faulty and dangerous products and equipments. It is proposed that PUCSL show the seriousness of this issue to the government and ensure that necessary steps are taken to protect the consumers of electricity. There is the possibility for the PUCSL to take class action against manufacturers and importers of unsafe adapters/multi-sockets and extension codes in order to show intent and emphasize the seriousness of this situation.

2.      However many standards are made and enforced, safety of electricity users would never be ensured if firstly the electricians who install the system and secondly the end users are not aware of the safety aspect. Effectively the population should be taught about safe use of electricity in primary schools. Further new connections should be provided after a small safety awareness session/training. Tertiary education for electricians should make sure that the safety aspect is emphasized in the curriculum. New electricity connection should be given by the distribution licensee only and only if the wiring is done to the proper standard.  A practical mechanism that is effective should be set up to ensure that wiring standard is followed to the letter.

The proposed way forward

Implement the suggested measures. At the point where all these measures are fully implemented, move towards standardizing the socket outlets to one single type.

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