Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Smart Electric Grid

For anyone that has traveled outside of the US, dealing with the variety of house voltages that are used around the world is nothing new.  Having been to Europe a couple of times, I've experienced some of the differences in electrical plugs and outlets in use.  However those were visits, and not moves, and perhaps this changes the level of the game (More stuff needing to be plugged in).  It seems to take quite a bit of hardware in order to get the juice out of the wall here in Singapore.  I've discovered that apparently a good part of the GDP of the country is generated by trade in electrical adapters, extension cords, and other paraphernalia necessary to connect to the electrical grid.  Here, nearly any hardware or electronics store carries a wide range of adapters and such.

As most of you know, the U.S. the standard house voltage is 115 volts, 60 Hertz (Hz), whereas here the house voltage standard is 240 volts, 50 Hz.  Thanks to advances of electrical engineering technology (switching power supplies) many appliances are now universal-- particularly small appliances with the external power supplies (e.g. phone chargers, etc).  With the proper adapters these can be safely used just about anywhere on the planet.  Not true for everything however--  bad things happen to those devices installed into an incompatible house voltage.

Prior to our move, I made a careful inventory of all electrical appliances and gadgets that we might consider taking along, noting the acceptable voltage and frequency ranges.  Almost everything with a motor in it needed to be left behind.  For those things making the journey I planned the purchase and use of adapters.  My surprise was discovering that after purchasing some appliances locally, they also required a type of adapter.  Those who have done a lot of traveling may have this knowledge-- I was clueless.

Here's how it works.  Thanks to the influences of the British, all electrical outlets (240 volt/50 Hz) look like this.  (Every socket has a switch by the way)


Most appliances have plugs that look like this.  (Three prongs, rectangular.  No problem-- works well with the sockets)


However, some appliances have plugs that look like this (Two prongs, each cylindrical)


Now if the two-prong plugs would fit and work in the electrical outlets in the house, no problem.  But they don't, at least not the ones in our apartment. (I have learned that there are "two-prong friendly" outlets.  I wonder how commonly available they are?)

Should you come to visit Singapore (or where ever else in the world this system is used), here's the secret.  You need one of these--  a two-prong adapter-thingy for a 3 prong 240 volt socket.  Note that this is pure plastic, no conductive metal anywhere.  I have yet to discover how these work, or why one should be needed.  But they do, and they are.


Perhaps the nations of the world attending the Copenhagen summit can start small by agreeing on a world standard for the electrical supply and its components, before moving on to the bigger problem of green house gases.  Think of all the plug adapters we wouldn't have to buy when we travel (or move).

1 comment:

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