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Energy Policies, Sane or Insane?

I’m no Electrical Engineer, I’m no expert in the field of Energy policies and so on, but I really got to rant a bit about the current situation I face. Currently, while not technically living alone yet, I am left to provide for the house; for this reason I’m caring even more about the various bills and prices, and hardware and household equipments.

A few years ago, in Italy, most of the power meters with electronic counterparts capable of reporting instant power consumption to the power company (that for the most part is still provided by the ex-state power company). About at the same time, they started providing a “free market” alternative billing, that provided discounted power for the night (or the weekend!), telling people that, after all, they consumed more power when they were at home.

True as that might be, and efficient as most of the household equipment is nowadays, a few consumer-protection organisations did enough calculations to show that it was almost a scam. It is true that there is more consumption when you’re at home than not, but it is not like there is no power consumption when you’re not home. Even if you were to properly turn off all the equipment that would otherwise go into standby (TVs, stereo, amplifiers, …) you still got a lot of things that are designed not to be turned off, ever (fridges and freezers, answering machines, programmed TV recorders), and a number of things that you’d leave on anyway (like PCs downloading stuff from P2P — there’s no denying that for almost all cases!). While there was a high discount for the price of energy during the evening, it couldn’t cover the huge increase in price during the day.

Luckily, my parents always listened to me about not accepting those prices, and up to now I had a standard, 247 billing. I say up to now because it seems like somebody in the Italian system decided that everybody should be on such billing systems. I’m still on the free-market circuit (it’s still regulated, but not as strictly as the other one), but my neighbours that are on the state-regulated system and they received last month a letter stating that the energy authority will force them to move to a day/night split billing system. They suggest to run dishwashers and washing machines during the evening to save money.

Is it just me or this sounds either positively stupid or a fraud?

  • Italy hasn’t been self-sufficient for energy production in a very long time, buying, as far as I can tell, the integration power from France; to the point that a fallen tree on the powerlines connecting us to France a few years ago caused a huge blackout throughout the country;
  • forcing every household to have the same schedule for dishwashers and washing machines is going to put additional request the system;
  • as far as I can tell, there is no reason to believe that the request of power during the day is sensibly higher than during the night; I’m actually quite sure that most of the businesses out there will keep their systems running during the night, whether they are manufacturers or third-sector offices (I have more than a couple of time-by-time customers that keep their computers running even when nobody is in office as to make sure there won’t be trouble starting up the system… I can feel why even though I don’t agree with that idea);
  • if anything, power should be cheaper to provide during the day, if we were on renewable power sources like, say, sun.. I don’t think the power production during the night is higher when you’re powered by solar panels, is it?
  • quite a lot of people in Italy are home throughout the day: unemployed, housewives, freelance self-employed people like me.. with tele-commuting starting to have its sense, this change seems to be against the trend.

All in all, I can feel that little part of my brain that I try to keep shut, the one that’s open to the suggestion of conspiracy theories, screaming that this sounds a lot like a way to force Italy into the kind of energy crisis that Enron shown the world how to play with. Probably it’s also because it reminds me that a bit of time ago there was quite a bit of a scandal about government officials having interest to move Italy to … coal power.

I sure hope to be found wrong here, but I have the uncanny feeling that it won’t happen.

At any rate I haven’t heard anything about similar changes for my current energy company, so I sure hope it won’t happen to me, having the tinderbox running all day, and neither me nor my mother leaving home during the day (I actually am more often out during the night, or the weekend, as I take time to go out with friends), would mean the power bill would end up quite steep.

While I would love to do as Eric does and have my computers at least to be entirely self-powered, that’s quite unfeasible to me, especially at the moment. What I would love to do would be having an easy way to turn off, say, the whole “media center” in my bedroom while I sleep or leave, or the extra elements in my office when I get out of it (such as the amplifier, or the monitor). Just having a power strip with a power switch is actually not enough, as the power connectors are in recesses that aren’t practical to reach daily.

Comments 6
  1. “there is no reason to believe that the request of power during the day is sensibly higher than during the night; I’m actually quite sure that most of the businesses out there will keep their systems running during the night whether they are manufacturers or third-sector offices”Yes, but don’t forget that business companies can leave computers switched on all the night but they don’t keep their industrial machines running too; here we are speaking of machines that can absorb an enormous amount of energy per hour which can compared to the energy used by an entire district for a full week. We are in a different order of magnitude here however and I think that the italian energy suppliers are just trying to gain some “fresh air” by obliging people to move their “heavy loads” into the night or into less busy hours; my suspect is that they don’t have enough money to change / modernize the actual energy production so they are just buying time waiting for public subsidies (that is the real scam/fraud!).

  2. I would expect most heavy-load systems from _big_ companies run 24/7 with work shifts, only the small-to-medium businesses would avoid that…

  3. Hi Diego, I am 100% with you that the day/night billing system will NOT help residential users, I’d like to clarify some points due to my own “insight” in the matter (ask me why privately if you wish, but I’d rather not write it here).- “Forcing schedule … additional request”: that’s not true, since the request depends on the “laundry machine” and it is fixed. All the requests which would happen during the day would happen during the night, so the “additional request” (during the night) would be balanced by a “diminished request” (during the day).- “request of power during night isn’t different from request during day”: let me tell you that’s not true. The curve of energy request looks like a “camel”, with two peaks (around 12:00 and 19:00). The second peak is higher than the first. During the night, the “inverse peak” is lower than the daily one. The difference is “sensible” as in the number (and kind) of plants required to fulfill the request.- “energy would be cheaper during the day using renewable sources like the sun”: in the future, it will likely be as you say, but as of today (and the coming years), solar energy isn’t cheap (it’s the opposite!). Obviously there are other renewables like wind, water and geothermic that can work 24/7 (and cover a good part of the energy request – as of today too), but you surely know it already.- “move to coal”: I don’t remember the scandal, but you have to consider the alternatives. The most recent move to coal in Italy was in Civitavecchia (power plant of Torrevaldaliga Nord) where an oil plant was moved to coal. The ambiental impact of coal in regards to oil is waaaaaay lower. Having said that, I’m the first supporter of wind and solar plants against oil, coal or other sources and in fact I’m trying to put solar energy (either thermic or electric kind) in my own house.I don’t know about your town, but there have been big investments into giving people solar panels (if I recall correctly the electric kind but I may be wrong here) for free, using governmental funds. I thought it to be available in all Italy.Peace!L.

  4. Just to clarify more, the results of the italian market are public (per transparency).http://www.mercatoelettrico…Then “Results of GME Market” (3rd tab), agree the conditions, then (on the left) “MGP”, “results”, (on the right) “demand”.The graphs are in MWh, so “30.000” means 30 TWh.As of tomorrow (the results are for the next day) the difference between the lowest night peak (4AM) and the highest day peak (5PM) is around 50%: 26TWh vs 48TWh.

  5. Hi Diego!I think the main point of encouraging people to move to off-peak ours is just that it’s the peak demand which requires building more power plants … when everyone turns on AC _and_ diswashers _and_ humidifiers _and_ stoves _and_ tvs _and_ …. the peak demand puts the most strain on the grid. By encouraging some flexible things to run at night (washing machines, dishwashers, dehumidifiers, whatever) they can even out the load and reduce the need for more power plants at peak times.However, the sad part is it’s the “peaker plants” which are often most efficient, running on natural gas instead of coal, because they can respond to load changes more quickly. Base load is still largely coal, at least in the US, though in many places coal plants are being converted to natural gas in an effort to reduce emissions.Hopefully, as others have said, renewables will even this out a bit in the future, with solar following peak demand during the day, and wind helping with base load at night.

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