friendly electric power company builds its huge powerplants somewhere far
away - you hope! Then they try and send electricity to you over powerlines.
Unfortunately, our universe is so constructed that the further away you are
from the powerplant, the more things there are that sap the power of the electricity
being sent. A lot of the electricity's push turns to heat and some turns to
crackling and buzzing sounds. That's what the electricity people call resistance.
resistance, the friendly power company has two basic choices. Push vast, huge,
titanic amounts of electricity over the lines so that by the time it reaches
you, at least a dribble is left and you can run your electric razor. Try spitting
a load of water through a 50 mile long straw without stopping to take a breath
and you'll get some idea of the difficulties involved. This is direct current
(DC) - electric current moving in one direction only.
The better way to send huge
amounts of electricity somewhere far away is to pulse the current,
sending it in powerful bursts that overcome resistance. Using
the analogy of spitting through a straw, this is like giving
a big spit, then taking a deep breath and spitting again. There's
a lot more power behind each push. In America the electric companies
time their spits... er, their pulses at 60 to the second - 60
hertz. In Ireland and all over Europe, they only spit out the
electricity 50 times a second - 50 hertz. It's called "alternating
current" (AC) because the pulse flows one direction,
then reverses itself. (First you spit, then you suck!)
The other electric term of immediate
importance is Voltage, which is analogous to pressure.
Voltage measures how much push electricity has. Low voltage means
the electric current won't have much pressure, kind of like a
dribble through your straw. A higher voltage means the current
is stronger - the water in your straw has the Hoover Dam lake
impoundment area backed up behind it.
Electric companies like to spritz pretty strong
currents through their main transmission lines - which are very big straws
indeed. But, sending 10,000 volts into the average home would require some
pretty thick lines, and your electric blanket would hum and buzz and keep
you up nights. So, on the pole outside your house sits a heavy duty step down
transformer. It reduces, or steps down, the power of the current that it allows
into your house. In America, these transformers step down the current to 110
In Ireland, and across most of Europe the standard
voltage is stepped down to between 220 and 240 volts. You don't have to worry
about whether the exact figure is 220 or 240 and equipment will be often be
rated at 230 volts. This is because electricity voltage fluctuates quite a
bit so equipment is designed to handle a wide range of peaks and troughs.
The official Irish figure is 220 Volts.
But the big jobber on the pole outside your
house may not do the trick. Sure, the electricity coming into your house is
now relatively mild, but it'll still burn the innards of any equipment rated
for 110 volts. So, if you're coming from America or nations where the standard
current is only 110 volts you'll need your own in-the-house personal step
down transformer to run your 110 goods.
These personal transformers come in all sorts
of sizes and weights. You can get tiny ones hardly bigger than an Irish plug,
or you can pick up hefty units weighing a few pounds and looking remarkably
like a square brick. For your computer you want the heavy variety. For your
kitchen waffle maker, the little ones will do. You just plug the transformer
into the wall and plug your 110 equipment into the transformer.
With that background, you can
begin to deal with getting your electric powered equipment to
work in Ireland.