Electrical systems unstable supply · Unstable supply in Electrical systems
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Unstable supply in Electrical systems
Unstable supply in Electrical systems
In many developing countries, electrical supply is highly erratic and you need to take precautions to protect your equipment.
The main danger is power spikes, where the voltage supplied temporarily surges to dangerous levels, with potentially catastrophic consequences. In developed countries, the main source of spikes is lightning strikes, but, in developing countries, they're most often associated with power outages since when the power comes back on, it rarely does so smoothly. The cheapest method of protection is thus simply to disconnect electronic devices as soon as the power goes out and wait a few minutes after the power comes back on until plugging them back in.
Surge protectors are devices designed specially to protect against spikes and surges, and some are available in portable travel-sized versions. Some surge protectors can also be fitted to a telephone line to protect your phone or laptop modem. The most common variety use a metal oxide varistor (MOV), which shorts to ground if a given voltage is exceeded. These are easily destroyed by larger spikes, and better models will have a light indicating when the MOV has broken down, but you still need to keep an eye on them as the device will still continue to give power even if the protection is gone. There are also surge protectors with fuses, which are fail-safe (a blown fuse will stop power) and replaceable, but there still is a risk of a short, sharp spike which can pass through and damage your device before the fuse blows.
In some (mostly poor) regions, you may experience electricity voltage drops. Instead of 240V for example, you may get only 200V or even less (50% of the nominal supply voltage is not unknown). This happens especially if you're at "the end of the line" (far from the source or transformer) and is caused by the resistance of the electric lines themselves. Some appliances, such as light bulbs and heating equipment just keep working under a lower voltage, although a 20% voltage drop will cause a 36% power drop. Most electronic devices also keep working, but voltage drops are critical for fluorescent lamps, refrigerators, and air conditioners which may stop working altogether (usually without being damaged: when the voltage returns to normal, they will start working again).
Voltage drops can be solved with a special device called a voltage stabiliser or AVR (Automatic Voltage Regulator). A stabiliser will raise the voltage again to its normal level. The principle is the same as for switching converters, except that stabilisers will produce a stable output, even with an unstable input. Stabilisers come in different power ranges, but they're all large, bulky and not practical to carry around. Be aware that some appliances, such as refrigerators, briefly consume 2 or 3 times more power at start-up; the stabiliser should be able to provide this power. Voltage stabilisers can introduce surges if there is a power outage. The cheaper and most common relay type can also damage electronic equipment.
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Electrical systems Travel Guide from Wikitravel. Many thanks to all Wikitravel contributors. Text is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0, images are available under various licenses, see each image for details.