Friday, July 11, 2014

British Vs. American Electrical Plug Systems

I love electricity.

I think it is the best way to do lots of things.  There are loads of ways to make it, even more to use it.

After reading this post on Treehugger:  ... well, I guess they deleted it because it was in ignorant piece of crap journalism.  It was written by Lloyd Alter by the way.

And seeing other posts in other places, like this video: 

So I want to weigh in.  Because our system here in America is a good system, but nothing is ever so good that it cannot be improved upon.

Look at the following picture:

As you can see, there are many different sorts of plugs.  Not only are the plugs different, but they use different voltages.  If you were to look at a nearby iPhone charger or wall wart of some other sort, you'd notice the input voltage range.  I happen to have a Kindle charger right here, the input range says 100-240 volts, 50-60 Hz.  That range covers the entirety of the standard available voltages and frequency of AC electricity.  That means, this little piece of electronic contraption can take any standard available form of electricty and convert it into 5 volts to charge your phone or tablet or whatever else.  And as you surely know by now, most electronics are like this, computers, monitors, receivers, TVs.  So they are all very adaptable.  In fact, a couple years ago, my church bought some subwoofers and they actually came with two plugs, one American plug and one from Germany.

Let's look at the benefits of the American plugs first.  The number one benefit is probably that they are cheap and simple.  They use no special contraptions, they use a minimum of metals, and they are very inexpensive.  They have small holes which prevent larger objects from being inserted.

Some downsides, you can zap yourself if they are not completely plugged in, and most of all, they run 120 volts.  In electricty, amperage, or the volume flow of electrons, is what is dangerous.  You can have millions of volts run through your body at a low amperage and you can survive, not that it won't hurt.  But if you have just enough voltage to pass through your skin, and plenty of amperage (or amps), it can kill you dead.  The higher the voltage you have available, the lower the amps can be to produce the same amount of power.  Volts times amps equals watts.  For instance, if you are using a vaccuum that uses 10 amps, you are drawing 10*120=1200 watts.  That same vacuum were it using 240 volts would only use 5 amps while drawing the same 1200 watts.  So you can see, a higher voltage supply means lower amps, and that would mean lower amperage breakers so then when you get zapped, they will be more likely to trip before killing you.  Another downside is since the voltage is lower, there are greater line losses, half the voltage means four times the loss.

I have zapped myself a number of times, and almost always it has been when I was messing around with bare wires.  The available plugs are generally safe.  But they can get better and could do so without much added expense.

The first thing I'd say to do is switch to 240 volts immediately.  We all (in America) already have 240 volts coming to our house.  Most of us have one or more 240 volt plugs also, used for dryers, ovens, stoves, furnaces, or other high power receptacles.  I have a small one, virtually the same size as a typical 120 volt outlet, in my garage from which I charge my electric car.  Our wiring can already typically handle 15-20 amps, and is rated for 600 volts so wiring does not need to be replaced.  The plugs would need to be replaced and light bulbs would need to be replaced, as well as a few other applicances.  However, simple transformers could be used to step the voltage down from 240 to 120.

I don't know if you think any of these suggestions are useful, but that's my view.  The plug we have in the US is the result of many years of market forces.  The British plug which is large, complicated, and relatively expensive, is the result of WWII materials shortages, and a more controlling government that can do things like mandate how things are wired.  I'm not saying this is a bad thing, it's just the fact of the matter.  At any rate, I seriously doubt there will be any change in US plugs any time soon, if ever.