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Columbia ISA home – › Wiring Diagrams – › Electric Power in various countries around the world

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2009 saw the introduction of Internet-capable HDTVs and also Internet-capable Blu-ray Players with Wi-Fi.


Electric power : When you Travel

Power and electric standards around the world


Plugs, adapters for travel to different countries

How to adapt audio/video devices to work in another country

What do I need to operate my audio or video device in a country other than my own?


You may not need anything, but chances are you do need to consider all of the following:

1) Voltage

2) Watts

3) Physical plugs

4) Media Formats


Voltage needs to be considered because voltage varies depending on where you are in the world. Electrical devices must have the proper voltage to operate within their design. It is often too easy to take for granted that you have the proper voltage at the wall plug. When in another country this could change because voltage at the wall plug is sometimes different or inconsistent when you move to a far off location in another part of the world.

Watts need to be considered along with voltage to be sure your electrical device has the proper electrical power limits, both lower and upper.

Physical plugs are different depending on which country or region you are in. Adapter plugs are available to allow physically incompatible electrical connections to make an electrical circuit.

Media formats also need to be considered as once again different parts of the world use their own standards for TV broadcasts, DVD and other media forms.


VOLTS

With a few exceptions, most countries around the world use 220 to 240 volts at the consumer individual outlet. Therefore devices made for these countries are designed to operate at 220 to 240 volts. On the other hand, Canada, Mexico, USA, Japan, some central American and South American countries and some others use a lower 100 to 120 volts for most appliances and consumer devices. Devices made for these countries operate at 100 to 120 volts. The operating voltages are different depending on which country you are in.

When in the USA and you plug your device into a wall outlet you get electric power at 110 to 120 Volts at 60Hz. Your made for America component typically operates at 110-120V and as long as you operate the device in the USA everything works fine. But if you travel to the U.K. for example, you may be incompatible because in the U.K. power is delivered at 220 to 240 volts at 50Hz from the wall socket.

In addition, the physical plug is incompatible. Your USA style standard power plug will not fit into the outlet in the U.K. To solve the voltage issue you may need a step-down transformer which will take the 220 volts and step it down to 110 volts so your device will work. To solve the physical plug problem, you may need an adpater plug to allow you to physically plug in.

In the United States household electricity is supplied by your local power company or municipal utility at 110 to 120 volts at a frequency of 60 Hz. 220 to 240 volts is also available for ovens, clothes dryers and other appliances which need higher current but these devices have a different plug than standard 110V devices. The quantity available in American homes is generally 15 to 20 amps at a single outlet or for the total of all outlets served by a single fused circuit. Thus, one circuit may provide from 1650 to 2400 watts of power. One circuit usually supplies more than one outlet, and many people use a doubler plug or power strip so they can use more lights or appliances from a single outlet. This can cause blown fuses. Instead of fuses, circuit breakers (CBs) are used in most homes built in the last few decades.

In Europe electricity is generally supplied at 220 to 240 volts and a frequency of 50 Hz. Officially it is 230 volts plus or minus 10%. Some localities have 110 volts, but 50 cycles is the standard frequency regardless of the voltage throughout France, Italy, Germany, England, Spain, and the rest of Europe. The quantity available depends on the location.

Transformers - convert Voltage



A 220 volt to 110 volt transformer is made of solid steel plates and two coils of copper wire. Electricity is introduced into the primary coil and comes out at the secondary coil. The change in voltage equals the ratio of the number of turns in each coil. Thus, a 220/110 volt transformer has half as many turns in the secondary coil as in the primary coil.

A transformer can be used to change European electricity so that it can be used in American specification devices. Transformers come in all sizes. The common travelers transformer is 50 watts and can be used for small electrical devices. Larger transformers can be used for bigger devices. Look at the electrical nameplate on your equipment to find out how much power it requires. Get a transformer with about twice the capacity. A transformer should cost less than $100 for 500 watts.

How to connect the transformer:

The step-down transformer typically has a socket to plug in your American device. This socket should output 110 to 120 volts. The transformer should have a power cord with a plug which would insert either directly into the wall outlet or into an adapter plug for your country of interest, and the adapter plug goes into the wall outlet.



CAUTION: Transformers can get hot. Be aware of potential heat problems and be prepared to get a different transformer or another solution if unusual heat buildup becomes an issue.

If you need a hair dryer, iron, or similar item, buy a 220v/110v dual voltage unit.

Multi-voltage devices

Many appliances are "multi-voltage" or "dual-voltage". If you have an electrical device that you want to use in another country (where the voltage can be 220/230/240) and the device is multi-voltage ( input 100-240 volts ) or dual voltage ( input 125/250 volts ) you usually only need a plug adapter. The input voltage (and the watts or amps) information can usually be found on a charger but it could be anywhere on the device. It is often on the main body in the same color where it can be difficult to see. Some dual voltage devices have switches and some others are self-sensing, switching to the higher voltages for you automatically.

Many devices such as laptops or digital cameras have a black brick adapter to run the device and charge the battery. The black bricks always have their electrical specifications embossed or printed on the back side. If your brick says "Input: 100-240V~50/60Hz" this tells you that it works on both American (110 volt 60 HZ) and European (220 volt 50 Hz) electricity. Most new laptops sold today operate on 110V or 220V and 50Hz or 60Hz. Their power adapter converts the alternating current into direct current where the power frequency is not a factor.

If you determine that your devices only need plug adapters, make sure you get ALL the plug adapters you need. Many countries have more than one configuration so there are often more than one adapter required.

Most, not all, laptops, cell phone chargers, digital camera chargers, camcorder chargers, and similar chargers are multi-voltage. If they are, they will say somewhere (on the charger usually), input 100-240 volts, 50/60 Hz.

Dual voltage appliances are extremely convenient when traveling. They allow you to avoid the weight, hassle and having to deal with heavy transformers and voltage converters. They save money also because most are ungrounded and ungrounded plug adapters are less expensive and more compact than grounded adapters.

If a device is not multi or dual voltage but you still want to use it when you travel, you will need a transformer or a combination transformer. Any device containing any electronic components such as laptops, chargers, some hair straighteners, etc. will require an actual transformer.

If your device is not multi or dual voltage, but you still want to use it when you travel, there are voltage converters that can perform both functions with some restrictions. These voltage converters can handle both electronic appliances up to 50 watts and non-electronic appliances up to 2000 watts. Most small electronic devices are under 50 watts. Most hair dryers are under 2000 watts. Transformers usually have no limitations other than to be sure you don't exceed its watt rating.

If you want to use a surge protector for your electronic appliances while overseas, you definitely want to consider surge protectors which are rated up to 250 volts. A USA surge protector cannot be used in 220-240 volt countries since they are designed and approved for a maximum voltage of 125 volts.

If your device requires a transformer, transformers are available in sizes from 50 watts and 100 watts up to 8000 watts and in a variety of types which may or may not apply to you. Transformers are sized according to the maximum watts (amps) that they can provide.

All appliances have the watts (or sometimes amps) they require posted somewhere on them. The appliance may list the power required as so many amps (for example, .5 A) in which case you can multiply volts times amps to find the watts (V x A = W). In the example .5 A times 120 volts equals 60 watts. It may also show the amps as so many mA (milli-amps). In this example, 50 mA converts (50 divided by 1000 = .05) to .05 amps. In the same formula, .05 times 120 (volts) = 6 watts as an example.

The outlets in Japan are very similar to the outlets in U.S. however, they do not have as many grounded (3 pin) and polarized (one flat pin bigger than the other) outlets. The voltage in Japan is 100 volts and the frequency is 50 Hz in some areas and 60 Hz in others. There is no practical way to change frequency but many U.S. appliances will only be marginally affected by this difference. Clocks are a noted exception. 50 Hz power used on a clock designed for 60Hz power means it will run 5/6 speed meaning it will always be slow. Better to use a small battery powered LCD alarm clock or use a wristwatch.

Mexico has a voltage of 127 volts in most areas but varies widely (higher or lower). It is best to contact somewhere you are going to find out if you are going to have problems with your appliances. There is no practical solution to this voltage situation.

The voltage and frequency in Colombia, El Salvador, Haiti, Costa Rica, parts of Ecuador, and some other countries are the same as in the USA. The outlets, however, while very similar to the outlets in the U.S. do not have as many grounded (3 pin) and polarized (one flat pin bigger than the other) outlets. It is best to contact your destination to find out if you are going to have problems with your devices.

Magellans.com Travel source for transformers, adapter plugs and more
Voltage super store.com Transformers, Plug adapters


Watts

You have to be aware of the wattage your device uses when it operates. A step-down transformer has a rating of a certain maximum watts. You do not want to exceed this number of watts. If your step-down transformer has a rating of 100 watts, then you do not want to use it with a hair dryer because a hair dryer usually uses 1000 watts or more. If your device does not state how many watts it uses (most do) but does state the voltage and amps, you can calculate watts by multiplying volts times amps. To calculate amps if you have volts and watts, divide watts by volts. For example if a device is rated 24 watts and uses 120 volts, then it uses 0.2 amps. Because some devices use double or even triple the watts when first powered up (surge), you should get a transformer with enough watt rating to account for the extra power surge.

Physical Plugs

The plug at the end of your power cord may be physically incompatible with the wall outlet in another country. To solve this problem you need an adapter plug. These are available for different countries or you can buy a universal adapter which will work in many different countries. Be aware however that just adapting the physical plug does not necessarily solve the voltage difference issue.





Worldwide plug and outlet configurations



U.K. plug and outlet

The Type G plug is commonly known as the 13-amp plug, and technically known as the BS 1363 (British 13 A/230-240 V 50 Hz earthed and fused). For safety reasons, UK wiring regulations require home sockets to have shutters over the live and neutral connections. These shutters are opened by the insertion of the longer earth pin. The shutters also help prevent the use of incompatible plugs made to other standards. It is sometimes possible to open the shutters with a screwdriver in order to insert Type C or other plugs, but this is not advised, as such plugs will not have a fuse.



Popularly known as the Europlug, the Type C electrical plug is a two-pin unearthed plug used throughout continental Europe, parts of the Middle East, and much of Africa, South America, central Asia, and the former Soviet republics.

The Type C plug is technically known as the CEE 7/16 (Europlug 2.5 A/250 V unearthed). There is a similar plug with slightly larger pins known as the CEE 7/17. Both types are unearthed and have two round pins which converge slightly. The CEE 7/16 is intended for devices that require 2.5 A or less. The 19 mm separation of the pins and the pins' 4 mm length allow for its safe insertion in most Type C, Type E, Type F, Type H, and some Type L outlets. The larger CEE 7/17 has a round plastic or rubber base that prevents it from being inserted into small sockets. The base has holes to accommodate the side contacts and socket earth pins.

Plug Adapters

European electrical outlets come in different sizes and shapes. On the European Continent, outlets normally require a plug with two round prongs about 0.19 inch (4.8 mm) in diameter and 0.72 inch (18 to 19 mm) apart. Outlets in some older locations accept a plug with slightly smaller prongs. If you have a laptop computer or other device which has an American three prong grounded plug you will need a grounded plug adapter. The Continental grounded plug has only two prongs on it but it has ground connections on the perimeter of the plug. Newer outlets accept the grounded plug. The standard grounded plug will not fit in the slightly smaller holes of the old outlets. If you think you may run into this problem, get an adapter beforehand.



Most British and Irish facilities use a three prong plug, with two flat prongs in line and one perpendicular. Newer facilities in Switzerland have another kind of plug. This one has three round prongs in a triangular pattern. In Eastern Europe it is more likely that you will find the old style European plug, at least until the time when all those countries adopt and implement EU (European Union) standards. The old style has the two round narrow prongs, 0.15" in diameter.



Universal Plug Adapters



This plug adapter accepts multiple plugs for different countries.

FAQ

Question.   Do voltage converters convert the frequency (Hz)?

Answer.   Voltage converters only convert the voltage, not the frequency. USA 110V electricity is generated at 60Hz AC. Many others countries have 240V generated at 50Hz AC. The frequency difference between 60 to 50Hz may cause the motor in a 60Hz appliance to operate slightly slower when used at 50Hz. The frequency difference will also cause analog clocks that use AC as the timing base to keep incorrect time. Many modern electronic devices, including battery chargers, computers, printers, stereos, tape and CD players, VCR/DVD players, etc. will not be affected by the difference in frequency.

Q. Can I plug several appliances into a single transformer?

A. Yes, several appliances cam be plugged into a single transformer using a power strip if and only if the combined wattage rating of all products is less than the capacity of the transformer. However, don't plug multiple products into a small travel converter.

Q. Is there a difference between a plug adaptor and a voltage converter/transformer?

A. A plug adapter does not change the voltage of the electricity supply. If the device is dual voltage, you can plug it into foreign outlets by using a plug adapter. A voltage converter/transformer actually changes the voltage from the supply level voltage to the value used by the device. They allow you to use single voltage appliances in foreign countries where the supply voltage is different to the voltage which the device was designed for.

Media Formats: TV and other devices

TV broadcasts are not the same all over the world and if you try to use an American TV in Europe it will not be able to receive local broadcasts. The U.S. uses the ATSC standard for digital TV broadcasts and since 2007, TV sets made for the U.S. have a built-in ATSC tuner. In Europe the DVB-T standard is used for digital terrestrial TV broadcasts and TV sets made for Europe have a DVB-T tuner. So in addition to the voltage and power plug problems, you also have incompatible TV broadcasts and tuners.

Most of the world is moving away from analog TV towards digital TV signals and no, there is still no worldwide standard, meaning you still have to be concerned about incompatible signals. There are some multi-system TVs which will work on 110V-240V 50/60Hz but only have analog tuners and maybe one type of digital tuner but not all. Some kind of converter box may still be required to receive TV signals from incompatible sources.

Multi-system HDTVs

# Worldwide NTSC/PAL/SECAM Color System
# Worldwide NTSC, PAL BG, PAL I, Secam BG, DK/ PAL DK TV tuners
# World Wide Voltage Supply AC 100-240V, 50/60Hz

SAMSUNG 26" UA26C4000 MULTISYSTEM LED TV FOR 110-220 VOLTS

Worldwide TV broadcast standards

Before Digital TV

North America, Central America and the western coast countries of South America, Japan, Bahamas, Bermuda, South Korea and a few other countries used the NTSC analog TV standard. Most other countries used the analog PAL TV standard except for France, Russia, and some African nations which used the SECAM TV standard. Converting from one analog broadcast standard to another means changing the video frame rate from 30 frames per second in NTSC to 25 frames per second in PAL and the scan line rate of 525 lines in NTSC to 625 lines in PAL. Converting PAL or NTSC to SECAM is of dwindling need as televisions sold in SECAM countries support SECAM and PAL and manufacturers are no longer producing video recording and playback equipment that accept or output a SECAM analog signal.




The North American analog TV standard was NTSC, while most of the rest of the world used forms of PAL or SECAM analog TV.

Digital TV

The United States established its national standard for terrestrial broadcasts of high-definition digital television, known as ATSC (for Advanced Television Systems Committee), in 1996. The European Union settled on its standard, Digital Video Broadcast-Terrestrial, or DVB-T, in 1997. Japan developed its Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting-Terrestrial (ISDB-T) in the 1980s and adopted it in 2003. China finalized its digital television standard in late 2006. Each TV has a tuner for over-the-air broadcasts based upon the location it will be used in. Therefore a TV made for USA will have an ATSC digital TV tuner while a TV made for UK will have a DVB-T tuner built-in. So you can see that TV reception would be problematic for a TV made with an ATSC tuner for United States use, moved to United Kingdom because the TV signals are different.



Digital TV standards worldwide



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