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The utility frequency, (power) line frequency (American English) or mains frequency (British English) is the nominal frequency of the oscillations of alternating current (AC) in a wide area synchronous grid transmitted from a power station to the end-user. In large parts of the world this is 50 Hz, although in the Americas and parts of Asia it is typically 60 Hz. Current usage by country or region is given in the list of mains electricity by country.

During the development of commercial electric power systems in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, many different frequencies (and voltages) had been used. Large investment in equipment at one frequency made standardization a slow process. However, as of the turn of the 21st century, places that now use the 50 Hz frequency tend to use 220–240 V, and those that now use 60 Hz tend to use 100–127 V. Both frequencies coexist today (Japan uses both) with no great technical reason to prefer one over the other[1] and no apparent desire for complete worldwide standardization.

In practice, the exact frequency of the grid varies around the nominal frequency, reducing when the grid is heavily loaded, and speeding up when lightly loaded. However, most utilities will adjust the frequency of the grid over the course of the day to ensure a constant number of cycles occur.[2] This is used by some clocks to accurately maintain their time.

Another use of this side effect is as a forensic tool. When a recording is made that captures audio near an AC appliance or socket, the hum is also incidentally recorded. The peaks of the hum repeat every AC cycle (every 20 ms for 50 Hz AC, or every 16.67 ms for 60 Hz AC). Any edit of the audio that is not a multiplication of the time between the peaks will distort the regularity, introducing a phase shift. A continuous wavelet transform analysis will show discontinuities that may tell if the audio has been cut.[38]

See also

Further reading