110 or 230 Volts 

By on

Why the Difference

I've been considering a post on the 110 or 230 Volt issue for a while.  While browsing the Internet I came across a great summary by Borat over at  engineering.com.  He summarises the issue as:

  • Historical reasons. Edison insisted on 110 V (DC) but was convinced by Westinghouse to switch to AC so that transformers (step up/down) could be used. So that became the North American standard. In Europe AEG started with 110 V (following Edison) but at 50 Hz (instead of North American 60 Hz) because it fit neater into the metric system. After WWII the voltage was doubled to 220 V because higher voltages use less copper - which was at a premium. Other countries in the world usually followed the standards of their colonizing powers. The proliferation of 110 V receptacles and devices in North America prevented the doubling of voltage but that is one of the reasons your large appliances use 220-240V plugs. 

World Wide Breakdown

A bit more Googling found this Wikipedia image.  The image graphically shows a comparison of various voltages between different countries.


Source: Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WorldMap_Voltage%26Frequency.png

Time to Reconsider a Single Worldwide Voltage Standard

There must be be massive advantages to standardisation on a single world wide voltage. Equipment would only need to be designed, built and tested for one voltage.  Supply systems would only need to be  designed, installed and testing for a single voltage.  Standardisation would be simplified by only having to deal with on voltage. 

With the world becoming more interconnected with a rapid increase in transfers of skills and materials across countries is it not time to reconsider the adoption of a single world voltage.

The Best Voltage

National pride and  arguments on installed systems etc. are the biggest obstacle to agreeing on a standard single worldwide voltage. Sooner or later surely these need to be overcome.

In looking at a standard level for a world voltage, I think there is an argument for considering the IEC accepted level of 230 V.  It appears to me that this voltage level has a significant number of advantages over 110 V:

  • there is a significant amount of international IEC standardisation based around 230 V
  • most countries are already operating at this voltage (or very close to it)
  • most residential/commercial equipment can be operated satisfactorily at this voltage
  • losses and material usage is reduced, making it a more sustainable selection

And Sockets

Assuming a universal adoption of 230 V, I also think the UK type square 3-pin plug would be a good choice for a common socket.  Currently this is only used on 230 V systems, has integrated earthing facilities, is a proven safe design and would be easily recognised.  Other socket outlets don't have all these features.  In addition, given the visual similarity between many other outlets (even if they are different) could make their use more confusing in the long run.

Will it happen

Given that we still do not have universal adoption of the SI system,  my guess for a universal domestic voltage is that this is probably unlikely in the near future.   This is unfortunate as the long term benefits would significantly outweigh any short/medium term disruptions in implementing a common system.

Related Links



Steven McFadyen's avatar Steven McFadyen

Steven has over twenty five years experience working on some of the largest construction projects. He has a deep technical understanding of electrical engineering and is keen to share this knowledge. About the author

myElectrical Engineering

comments powered by Disqus



Battery Cars A to Z

Battery powered cars are a hot topic and widely debated. The pros, cons, issues and time frames can be talked about endlessly. An article by the Telegraph...

Why a Sine Wave?

I received this question by email a few weeks. First thoughts was that it is a product of the mathematics of rotating a straight conductor in a magnetic...

Questions - Reputation and Privilege

Our question and answer system while letting you do exactly what it says, is much more.  It is a dynamic user driven system, where our users not only ask...

LED Replacement Light Bulb

The inventor of the first visible light-emitting diode makes history again this year as it begins to show customers a 40-watt replacement GE Energy Smart...

Paths of Flight

GE have put together a time-lapse video shown flight take-off and landings at some airports. An interesting view:

What is an Open Delta Transformer

In three phase systems, the use of transformers with three windings (or legs) per side is common.  These three windings are often connected in delta or...

How Electrical Circuits Work

If you have no idea how electrical circuits work, or what people mean then they talk about volts and amps, hopefully I can shed a bit light.  I’m intending...

Arc Flash Calculations

Working in the vicinity of electrical equipment poses an hazard. In addition to electric shock hazard, fault currents passing through air causes Arc Flash...

Star-Delta Motor Starting - Performance

Many questions sent in to the site are in connection with motor starting and in particular star-delta.  For all but the simplest application, there is...

Frame Leakage Protection

While not as popular as it once was, frame leakage protection does still have some use in some circumstances.  In essence frame leakage is an earth fault...

Have some knowledge to share

If you have some expert knowledge or experience, why not consider sharing this with our community.  

By writing an electrical note, you will be educating our users and at the same time promoting your expertise within the engineering community.

To get started and understand our policy, you can read our How to Write an Electrical Note