Is there continued movement towards unification of electric power wall socket/plug standards?

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As we all know, when traveling abroad we usually have to use electric power socket adapters, since there are several form factors in use in the world, and most are incompatible with each other (i.e. not physically pluggable; I'm not talking about electric compatibility and voltages here).

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Now, in Israel/Palestine, when I'm from, we used to have this silly custom socket standard, H-type, not used anywhere else in the world. We didn't even have the British type G, which we could have gotten as a colony (and neither did India by the way. Isn't that weird?) Luckily, in 1989, the standard was revised so that sockets could now accommodate a Euro-Plug (and thus also type F plugs) with no adapter, as well as the olg plugs. And indeed, a lot of the computer parts and electrical appliances we get now are those with plugs designed for "Schuko" countries. Which is great. To some extent this coincided with Israel developing closer relations with European states and the EU in the 1990s, joining a bunch of programs such as the EU Framework Program of academic research etc.

I guess earlier examples of this are the spread of F plugs, and the combination F-and-E sockets you find in many places (the E is French, the F is German, originally), and the very existence of the C-plugs - which represent the coming together of European states for the past several decades.

But this is old news. I was wondering if this process is ongoing these days, i.e. are there important transitions of socket/plug standards corresponding or reflecting political changes, and are there ones planned for the near future.

(To be honest, I also think some standards are technically superior to other prevailing standard in terms of convenience and/or safety, and I would assume those should "take over", but I don't want to get into that.)

einpoklum

Posted 2018-06-15T15:21:00.940

Reputation: 5 702

1Re "not physically pluggable; I'm not talking about electric compatibility and voltages here": that's a very important safety interrelation -- physical incompatibility is often expressly designed to prevent dangerous electrical incompatibility. – agc – 2018-06-16T17:34:23.820

@agc: Almost all of the world - except the US and some US-influenced countries (Latin American, Japan) - uses 50 Hz. And a vast majority of those support 220 V. So the differences among all those countries are not about safety. – einpoklum – 2018-06-16T17:51:27.133

Yes. USB-C for Power Delivery. :-)

– Martin Schröder – 2018-06-21T00:21:21.063

@MartinSchröder: Was that only tongue-in-cheek? – einpoklum – 2018-06-21T06:28:06.367

@einpoklum: Yes. I doubt that USB-C will ever be able to transfer 3KVA. :-) – Martin Schröder – 2018-06-21T08:36:53.537

Answers

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Lets only consider the ~230V systems; the ~110V systems seem to have largely standardised on the American plug.

guess earlier examples of this are the spread of F plugs, and the combination F-and-E sockets you find in many places (the E is French, the F is German, originally)

I have never heard of a combination "E+F" socket; it is the plugs that are typically a combination.

Luckily, in 1989, the standard was revised so that sockets could now accommodate a Euro-Plug (and thus also type F plugs) with no adapter

So it can accept the plugs, but they will not be earthed and so will be operating with a reduced level of safety to if they were connected properly. Many countries would not find that acceptable.

and neither did India by the way. Isn't that weird?

India and South Africa do use British-derived plugs and sockets but they are derived from the older BS546 standard rather than the BS1363 standard that is now almost completely dominant in the UK.


The IEC tried to introduce a new standard plug/socket type (60906-1) but it never caught on. Only South Africa adopted it. Brazil introduced a plug and socket type based on it but incompatible.

The fundamental problem is that for a country that currently has strong electrical standards and is able to enforce them a transition will almost certainly meet strong resistance due to the medium term reduction in safety and convenience, not to mention in some cases the impact on national pride.

So convincing the likes of the UK, France, Germany, Australia, etc that a transition is a good idea is likely to be virtually impossible and for a global manufacturer those are all counties that are "too big/rich to ignore".

The EU apparently was asked to consider standardising plug/socket types recently but (as expected) rejected doing so. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/xii24a_plugs_and_sockets.pdf

So while individual countries may move from one type to another I don't see there being any real progress towards a single standard.


Tech manufacturers have largely solved the problem in other ways, through the use of external power supplies and/or detachable power cords that can be easilly swapped out for each target market.

Peter Green

Posted 2018-06-15T15:21:00.940

Reputation: 481

One of the big problems is that different sockets have different goals. E.g. the British one has a fuse in every plug, which I personally consider overkill (but some might disagree). The Swiss ones are pretty neat and have some interesting properties, but no one uses them except Switzerland (they are partly compatible with Euro plugs though), and are they really that much better to justify a costly switch operation? Probably not. – None – 2018-06-16T16:45:55.013

@MartinTournoij: Link to information about the "neat features" of the swiss plug? – einpoklum – 2018-08-28T10:58:07.550

Martin Tournoij - the UK 13A plug is fused because it was introduced for use with ring-circuit wiring after World War 2, when copper was expensive. In a radial circuit each branch has its own fuse. – Michael Harvey – 2019-06-15T15:39:23.033

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Yes. The IEC (site) is still active.

I'm not aware of any specific program for further integrating connectors, but they have enough committees that's probably me just not bothering to look.

user9389

Posted 2018-06-15T15:21:00.940

Reputation:

... so this is borderline between a comment and an answer then :-) – einpoklum – 2018-06-15T15:45:51.677

It was a choice between a partial answer comment and a link only answer, I choose the one that is easier for non-mods to correct. – None – 2018-06-15T15:47:49.537

The IEC still exists, but is there any evidence that they are still trying to unify plug/socket standards. – Peter Green – 2018-06-16T07:54:38.187

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Part of the problem is that the underlying electric grids use different voltages & frequencies. North America uses 110/220 volts at 60 Hz, much of Europe uses something like 200/400 volts at 50 Hz. Plug a device designed for one voltage into another system, and the best case is that it doesn't work. It's quite likely that you'll destroy the device in the process, with risk of fire, electric shock, &c. So to a certain extent, incompatible plugs are a desireable safety feature.

That's even true of devices on the same system, so in the US we have different-shaped plugs for standard household 110 V (and even those differ if the device/outlet has a ground: the difference between 2 and 3 prong plugs), and for more power-hungry devices that use either single or 3 phase 220 V power.

Edit In response to @einpoklum: What I'm trying to point out here is that trying to standardize on a plug format is a really bad idea unless and until the utility grids standardize on a common voltage and frequency. (Which requires a major investment in infrastructure.) From your map, it seems like most of the rest of the world - most of Europe, a large part of Asia, and a good chunk of Africa - has standardized on a set of plugs for their voltage/frequency.

Instead of asking what's happening with plug standardization, I think it would be interesting to ask why they ever became non-standardized in the first place. Given that the modern A/C grid is mostly an American development, why did Europe &c choose to use different voltages & frequencies?

jamesqf

Posted 2018-06-15T15:21:00.940

Reputation: 10 503

2>

  • This doesn't answer my question; you're explaining why this would be difficult, not whether it's happening. 2. 110V is just the US and some of the more heavily US-influenced countries; what about all of the rest of the world?
  • < – einpoklum – 2018-06-16T07:43:47.213

    2In his defense, he is explaining why it's a bad idea. – lly – 2018-06-16T16:16:24.307

    "From your map, it seems" A couple of notes on the map, firstly it seems to be a mercator projection, so it greatly exaggerates the frozen north. Secondly it lumps together a bunch of plug types, so the same color doesn't nessacerally mean (safely) compatible. – Peter Green – 2018-06-21T15:41:15.760