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What Is a 220 Voltage Converter?

A socket designed for use with AC electricity.
Europe-bound travelers who are bringing a laptop should pack a voltage converter and adapter plug.
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  • Written By: Gregory Hanson
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2014
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A 220 voltage converter converts electrical power to or from 220 volts. Converters are used to step down power that is transmitted along power lines at much higher voltages. They are frequently used to transform power from around 110 volts to around 220 volts or vice versa. Another type of 220 voltage converter is used to supply direct current (DC) electricity to devices that require it or to produce 220 volt alternating current (AC) from a DC power source.

The electromotive force in an electrical circuit is measured in volts. A higher voltage indicates that there is more electromotive force present. Conversion between voltages is carried out using the electrical property of induction, in which a transformer uses power from one AC circuit at one voltage to power a different circuit at a second, lower or higher, voltage.

Higher voltages are better at efficiently transferring power over long distances, so main electrical lines and long-distance transmission lines use very high voltages. This high-voltage power is not suitable for use in most electronic devices, however, and poses safety risks. A 220 voltage converter can be used to step down high-voltage power from main lines to 220 volts, one of two standards widely used in household devices.

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Not all electrical grids operate at 220 volts, however. Many nations, most notably the United States, use AC power in the 110 volt range. A 220 voltage converter can transform power to or from 220 volts. This is especially useful for travelers moving between areas which use different electrical standards, who can use a converter to power small electrical devices.

220 voltage converters are all rated for how much power they can safely transform, and it is important not to exceed this threshold. The frequency of the electricity is not changed by a typical 220 voltage converter. As a result, some electrical devices, such as clocks, will not function correctly on converted power.

A third type of 220 voltage converter modifies 220 volt AC power into DC power. This type of device is used to power many sorts of electronic devices, such as computers and cellular phones. Power supply devices are usually designed to operate across a wide range of input voltages and frequencies, a range that usually includes both 220 and 110 volts and 50 and 60 hertz frequencies. A traveler should check carefully before assuming that a power supply can function as a converter, but most are designed to do so. They do, however, still require adapter plugs when used in countries that use different styles of electrical wiring.

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MrMoody
Post 4

@NathanG - I used to work in the electrical industry and I can tell you that power lines carry an enormous amount of voltage. Some people don’t respect the amount of electricity that courses through these lines.

We had an ice storm some years ago and some of the power lines fell down. I saw some curiosity seekers playing near the power lines, until the electrical company came by and sequestered the area until the lines could be restored again.

Playing with power lines is not a smart thing to do. They are not stepped down until they reach your house – and even your home’s AC voltage can kill you! A word to the wise is sufficient.

NathanG
Post 3

@hamje32 - I have a 110 to 220 voltage converter that I bought after living in Asia for four years. All devices there were rated for 220 volts.

I needed the converter in order to continue to use my Toshiba laptop over here. It worked fine with the converter but I also needed what’s called a three prong to two prong adapter.

Over in Asia the power cords have three rounded prongs instead of two flat prongs like we have in the states. So without the adapter obviously it won’t fit into the AC socket. I had to buy this adapter for $5 to allow me to do that. It’s well worth the price.

hamje32
Post 2

@nony - You are correct. Only 110 volts is coming from the power outlet, but I believe that the step up power converters just double up the voltage coming in using magnetic induction and coiled wires.

You can actually increase or decrease the voltage of a circuit based on how you coil your wires, so really it shouldn’t be too hard, at least in principle. I don’t think that the step up transformer is any more difficult than the step down transformer in its design. They both use the same principle, just in different ways in my opinion.

nony
Post 1

I understand the principle behind the 110 to 220 voltage converter, also known as the step down voltage converter, but what about step up voltage converters?

In theory these devices let you step up voltage from 110 volts to 220 volts. Where does it get the extra voltage to do that since only 110 volts of juice is coming from the power outlet? I think the step down transformer is simpler in design really.

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