Electricity is all around us. Electrical systems are quite complex and consist of many different parts that vary based on where in the world you are. This can cause inconvenience to laypeople and pose a risk to people who work with electricity. For that reason, understanding the different types of cords used to transfer electricity can save time, money and frustration. There’s a wide range of power cables, each of which is used for specific or multiple applications. I’ll explore the different types of cables, their uses and their history.
What Are Electrical Cords?
Electrical cords are electrical hardware used to transfer AC (alternating current) and direct current (DC). Most manufacturers use copper wires to manufacture power cables. Copper wires are then insulated using a non-conductive material, such as plastic, to protect the wire. According to NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association), all electrical hardware, including plugs, cables and sockets, must meet a set of standards and requirements. The organisation sets the requite cord voltage capacity, receptacle configuration as well as other specifics that govern the operation and properties of electrical equipment. There’s a total of 15 electrical plugs used worldwide, ranging from Type A to 0. But before I get into the specifics, let’s take a moment to go through the background of power cords.
History of Electrical Cables
The design of modern power distribution systems is credited to Thosam Edison. The coiled jute, a plant-derived material around a copper rod for insulation. He then placed the jute-coated copper rod in a pipe full of a bituminous substance. The device was the blueprint for today’s power cable designs.
Even though vulcanised rubber was invented in 1844, it started being used in 1880 to make electrical wiring. Rubber-wrapped cords became standard until the 1930s, which is when armoured cables emerged. Despite their higher manufacturing cost, the design was used up until 1950. In the 50s, two-wire PVC insulated cables came along, and have been the standard ever since due to their toughness and heat resistance. PVC cables are available in a wide range, characterised by various sizes, lengths and types of insulation.
Types of Electric Cables
This is the internationally accepted standard for power cable appliances that go up to 250V. Countries around the world use different types of power cords that are governed by specific requirements. However, most countries, including Australia recognise the international requirements of IEC 60320. The C stands for cable standard for connectors. Different types of connectors are included in a range of combinations of voltage, temperature and current. The most popular types of connectors are C13, C15 and C19. These are generally found in places such as data centres.
As you can see, the connectors are odd numbers. On the flip side, the plugs are in even numbers. Moreover, male appliance inlets are typically a unit higher than the matching female connector. So, you’ll probably see power cord types such as C16 to C15 or C20 to C19.
AC Power Cables
AC cables are made to supply electricity from AC power sources to appliances such as power tools, musical instruments and similar. These cords are assembled with wires, wire insulation, plugs, wire terminals and prongs. Generally, AC power sources feature different voltages, which is why manufacturers need to stick to rigid specs such as wire size, length, current rating, voltage rating and sheath material. The connector adheres to the appliance while the plug attaches to the power supply. The voltage and frequency vary based on the country, which is why the AC power cord needs to match the country’s standards.
Power Cords for Generators
These power cords are made to meet the power demands of generators. You can choose from a wide range – from 15A to 30A. These cords come with different types of connectors, some of which are 5, L5, 14, L14, CS and TT. You can figure out the connector type by checking the labels. It might take a while to understand the terminology, but once you get a grasp of it, you’ll be able to narrow down your needs.
Cord sets also conduct electricity. They feature copper wires and protective insulation materials for a coating just like conventional cords. However, cord sets are accompanied by other parts, such as fuses, to protect against voltage surges. Other features that are unique to cord sets are voltage checkers and leak detectors. Besides these, they also come with protective materials to reduce the effects of electromagnetic energy. Cord sets are used in areas with several different pieces of electrical equipment, such as large commercial, residential and industrial areas. Generally, they use AC power and are very similar to extension cords.
These are also known as extension leads and are available in a variety of sizes and lengths. They provide power to equipment in areas that don’t have a reliable power source close by. Generally, extension cords come with a lengthy cable, and you can find them in an endless combination of designs, colours and builds.