Why different countries have different plugs?
With more than 15 different types of plugs and wall sockets in use around the world, one of our constant worries when we travel abroad is whether the chargers of our electronic devices would be compatible with the electric outlets.
Why is there such a phenomenon?
This phenomenon has its roots to history. At the end of the 19th century, electricity was initially only used for lighting. Soon it became clear that electricity could also be used also for heating and other household appliances; manufacturers had to find another way to connect them to the power grid. This resulted in the two-pin plug invented in the 1920s.
As the need for safer installations grew, three-pin outlets were developed. The third pin on the outlet was an earth pin, which was effectively connected to earth, this being at the same potential as the neutral supply line.
Type A plugs
At the time, other countries could have simply chosen to use the standard American plugs and outlets. But in the early days of electricity, few saw the importance of uniformity, and many countries decided to design their own standard plugs. Their decision was understandable in hindsight, because the type-A American plugs were unstable and had a tendency to fall out. Today, they are considered to be relatively unsafe due to their almost prehistoric design.
It would still be fairly easy to use a single global standard plug. For many years, the International Electro-technical Committee has tried to design and implement a uniform plug design. However, political and economic interests have consistently blocked any changes in that area. When the standard type-N plug finally saw the light of day in 1986, the world had little enthusiasm for the change. With all of the technical, commercial and political interests at play, only two countries have legally adopted the IEC plug and outlet standard over the years: Brazil and South Africa.
A sustainable solution
For those who have caught the travel bug this season, The PowerCube |ReWirable| comes with a worldwide standard receptacle (fused for max 6–10A). Put your old IEC cables from outdated devices to use by plugging it in and creating an extension cord. Once you return home from your travels, simply switch the travel plug for one compatible with your country, this way, you can optimise its use and convert it to a standard power strip.