Look at any electrical item in the UK and you will see the rating 240V. The supply voltage has been 240 volts for almost as long as I can remember. Not completely as long because I can just remember, as a child, the household trauma and confusion of changing everything from the old DC supply, but it’s been 240 (or often slightly higher) ever since.
Last year, having used most of my old (real) light bulbs and being unable to read a book comfortably under one of the useless new mercury vapour dispensers, I refitted some rooms with halogen fittings and scraped together a supply of a few real bulbs for where they were needed. Success, I could read again!
The last couple of weeks however the lights have again seemed dim, even the new fluorescent in the utility room flickers for 5 minutes after switch on before becoming almost (but not quite) stable. So I dug out my trusty Chinese voltmeter to find the mains voltage was reading 231 volts. Voltage reductions because of high demand in the cold weather are not unknown but have been quite rare over the past couple of decades. This is not a ‘brownout’ as such, but enough to make lights not quite as bright as they should be.
Then I looked up what the voltage should be, and guess what? The standard voltage across the EU has been ‘harmonised’. Quite a bit of the continent was 220 volts, we were 240 volts, so the EU has standardised on 230 volts. Apparently it isn’t an instant change because even the EU realise it would involve a huge cost in transmission equipment. They have allowed a margin so the UK can use 240 while 220 remains in use on parts of the continent and all stay within legal limits. One can only assume however that any new networks or the 200billion 'supergrid' they want to build to enable windfarms to be properly integrated will operate at the harmonised voltage.
But isn’t it convenient that as we enter an era of fuel poverty created by politically insane low carbon policies the UK power authorities can drop the voltage without breaking the rules or having to make any excuses because officially the supply is only 230 volts, not the 240 volts we are used to..