In the past five years, in electrical engineering and design research, the electrical outlet seems to have developed advanced qualities, by reason of which it is now considered smart. Yet a closer look at its characteristics and history reveals that this little product has never actually been dumb; on the contrary, its affordances, form, and technology are the result of the efforts of many generations of inventors, engineers, and designers. It is therefore important to be clear about the type of intelligence implied by the term “smart.” The epithet “smart,” when applied to the electrical system and its components, refers to the concept of a new type of grid called the Smart Grid (i.e., the “Internet of Energy”). The term “smart” became more commonplace (in reference to the electrical system and its components) as the debate surrounding the theme of intelligent electricity management widened. This discourse about power borrowed the term “smart” from the field of computer science. The characteristics of an electrical outlet summarize not only the entire social and technical system of a nation’s electrical power grid, but also the political strategies and decisions contained in the energy agreements between different countries. The mere fact that the standards for electrical grids stop short of national borders speaks volumes about the trade relations and cooperation between foreign countries. These agreements have an effect on end users trying to connect a device to the power outlet, but only when that device is not compatible with the standards to which they are accustomed. The emerging Third Industrial Revolution will bring with it an intelligent power system, the main functions of which will be to promote a more flexible form of power distribution and to channel electricity from a multiplicity of producers into the market. In light of these coming changes, we can trace the salient phases of the development of the electrical system, as seen through the evolution of the power outlet.
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