Why do some countries have differently shaped electrical outlets/adapters?


Why do some countries have differently shaped electrical outlets/adapters?

In: Technology

In 2007 America standardised their plug. This is a notoriously unsafe, 2 pronged, wobbly adapter. Due to other countries wanting to deviate from the American standard they saw it fit to develop a safer alternative. There were attempts to universalise the plug sockets throughout modern history but politics and economical issues got in the way – mainly because of the cost of redesigning homes, appliances and patents.

Most countries developed their own standards when electricity started being used. Some were better than others, and some decided to take the better ideas and combine them.

There would be a bit of protectionism involved as well. You don’t want someone buying an American product when they could buy manufactured right here in France, or vice versa. Travel was also a lot more difficult back then as well. Finally those that were travelling were not carrying a lot of electrical devices with them.

After these systems were developed, it’s much harder to go back and change them.

How AC power is delivered is the main reason. In Europe the power coming out of the wall is 240 volts at 50hz however in North America (and parts of central and South America) run on half of that 115v at 60hz. Which means the European plugs have to be larger and have larger Gage wire then the north American standard to handle the current that is being supplied. over the last century we have shifted into these standards by trial and error. During the 19th century there were at least 30 different plug styles in the United States alone until the government stepped on and choose one later changing it from a 2 prong set up adding a 3ed ground wire.

Rewind to the early 1900’s when electricity started to show up in regular homes.

There wasn’t even any plugs then. It was all circuit breakers and hard-wired systems.

And the system was often the property of the power company itself, you were not allowed to decide for yourself what to connect to it.

(my granddads dad, for example, paid a fixed monthly rate PER LIGHT BULB the first five years he had his home electrified.)

When the plugs came around and became a thing, the power company provided them for you.

As a result, you didn’t necessarily have the same plugs as your neighbour. Because the power company could have changed their mind and started buying elsewhere. Or maybe that neighbour got his power from another power company.

My point is that even in a small country, you had literally *hundreds* of power companies. All with their own absolute right to decide for themselves what sockets and plugs to use.

When it was time to settle down and simplify things, it was because they regulatory authority had prepared a standard. And talked it through well with all the power companies. And when the standard got set in stone, it made everyone happier because it simplified shit for everyone.

Often, people tend to think that they have been good enough already when they *finally* managed to regulate their domestic market. trying to also regulate an international market, where every participant comes from the same point where you yourself are today, is pretty hard.

Yet it is done. Europe, that has historically been 20 or so independent domestic markets with their own regulatory bodies, is now finally starting to look at these things. Try to make things simpler for everyone. It’s a long way to go, but we are slowly getting international standards…

* Some countries use different voltage and frequency for their power.
* The counties that got power more recently tend to use better, safer systems.
* The countries with older systems can’t upgrade because the cost of replacing all the outlets and every electrical device would be impossible.
* Also the old systems are still safe enough to use.