Saturday, November 1, 2014

Why is there 120 volts and 220 volts....and 12 different types of plugs

So, thankfully for most of travellers, electronics manufacturers have made our electronics comparable with 220 volt and 120 volt systems.  However, it does beg the question on why is there so many different electrical standards and plugs.

Well, it seems that it is partly because of the fact that the USA, specifically Thomas Edison, first discovered electricity and how to use it.  However, in doing so, there was the inevitable learning from his mistakes.  So, by the time he had made the AC 120 volt system, with the three prong plug North Americans were used to, Nikola Tesla was already seeing the challenges in their implementation.  In the USA implementation of electricity, you needed large cables because of the amount of energy loss in the cables.  However, by going with a higher voltage, between 220 and 250 volts, you could get more power with a smaller cable.  So, as a result of that, Europe adopted a different voltage than North America.

Now, when it comes to the plugs, that is an entirely different story. Basically, each country had different power companies that wanted to make things as easy as they could for themselves.  As a result of this, they were each designing plugs that they thought were superior to another countries.  Of course, back then, modern jet flights where you transverse continents were still 30 years away at the earliest.  So compatibility of the plugs didn't matter!

There has been talk, through organizations that discuss electricity worldwide about adopting one standard, but because every country has invested so much in their system, the likelihood of standardization will likely always rely on an adapter.  At least that's a standard requirement for travel now!

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