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.