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In electric power distribution, a service drop is an overhead electrical line running from a utility pole, to a customer's building or other premises. It is the point where electric utilities provide power to their customers. The customer connection to an underground distribution system is usually called a "service lateral". Conductors of a service drop or lateral are owned and maintained by the utility company.
At the customer's premises, the wires usually enter the building through a weatherhead that protects against entry of rain and snow, and drop down though conduit to an electric meter which measures and records the power used for billing purposes, then enters the main service panel. The utility's portion of the system ends, and the customer's wiring begins, at the output socket of the electric meter. The service panel will contain a "main" fuse or circuit breaker, which controls all of the electrical current entering the building at once, and a number of smaller fuses/breakers, which protect individual branch circuits. There is always a main shutoff switch to turn off all power; when circuit breakers are used this is provided by the main circuit breaker.
In North America and countries that use their system, the 120/240V split phase system is used. A pole-mounted distribution transformer usually provides power for one or two residences. The service drop is made up of two 120 volt lines and a neutral line. When these lines are insulated and twisted together, they are referred to as a triplex cable which may contain a supporting messenger cable in the middle of the neutral conductor to provide strength for long spans. The neutral line from the pole is connected to an earth ground near the service panel; often a conductive rod driven into the earth. The service drop provides the building with two 120 volt lines of opposite phase, so 240 volts can be obtained by connecting a load between the two 120 volt conductors, while 120 volt loads are connected between either of the two 120 volt lines and the neutral line. 240 volt circuits are used for high-power devices, such as air conditioners, clothes dryers, ovens and boilers, while 120 volt circuits are used for lighter loads such as lighting and ordinary small appliance outlets.
In European countries and countries that use their system, three phase service drops are used for residences. Using three phase power allows longer service drops to serve multiple residences, which is more economical with the higher density of housing in Europe. Several slightly different voltage standards have been used: 220Y380, 230Y400 and 240Y415, with plans for future "harmonization" towards 230Y400. The service drop consists of three phase wires and a neutral wire which is grounded. Each phase wire provides around 230 volts to loads connected between it and the neutral. Each of the phase wires carries 50 Hz alternating current which is 120° out of phase with the other two.
Commercial and industrial service drops can be much bigger, and are usually three phase. In the USA, common services are 120Y/208 (three 120V circuits 120 degrees out of phase, with 208V line to line), 240V three phase, and 480V three phase. 600V three phase is common in Canada, and 380-415V or 690V three phase is found in many other countries. Generally, higher voltages are used for heavy industrial loads, and lower voltages for commercial applications.
Service conductors for a customer may be run underground, from a padmount transformer to a customer's meter.