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.

Enel: cosa vuoi spaccare oggi?

Ho già scritto tempo fa riguardo i miei disservizi con Enel ma si trattava della scorsa estate. Dopo quei blackout ce ne sono stati altri, a volte dovuti al mal tempo (quindi comprensibilissimi) altre volte senza spiegazione. A inizio anno è capitata una sera in cui si sono verificati due scatti (cadute di tensione istantanee), senza temporale o altro che potesse spiegarlo.

Ma d’accordo, una sera può capitare. Il problema è che è appena ricapitato. E non c’è temporale. E non c’è nessun avviso. E sono stati quattro scatti stavolta.

Qualcuno deve spiegarmi perché sempre in questa zona, da vent’anni da quando abitiamo qua. Vai a due vie di distanza e non hanno blackout a meno di trombe d’aria, vai in un comune limitrofo e neanche sanno cosa siano i blackout che durano più di mezz’ora, quando qua ne abbiamo da cinque ore al colpo, almeno una volta l’anno.

Enel, non sono molto contento del servizio, affatto.

Ora, TV, PlayStation 3 e AppleTV sono fuori dai gruppi di continuità, credo sia una buona idea prenderne uno nuovo, chissà che la APC mi rottami il vecchio Mustek.

Aggiornamento delle ore 2am: anche se il simpatico ominio che ha risposto a mia madre all’ufficio segnalazione guasti questo pomeriggio aveva assicurato che il problema era stato risolto, la verità era molto diversa. In effetti il guasto, grosso, molto grosso, non era stato identificato questo pomeriggio.

E puntualmente alle 21, altri scatti, e blackout, 803500 riporta che il problema sarà risolto “in dieci minuti”; dopo venti minuti riporta invece che la corrente ritornerà presumibilmente entro le ore 22:15; alle 22:30 il messaggio era stato rimosso e l’operatore mi riferisce che, purtroppo, il guasto è stato più grosso del previsto e in effetti sarà da attendere fino a mezzanotte. A mezzanotte e un quarto ovviamente il problema non è risolto, mi assicurano però che nel giro di massimo mezz’ora il gruppo elettrogeno entrerà in funzione.

All’una e dieci, mancando ancora corrente, mi spiegano che tipo di guasto è stato: un cavo di media tensione (ventimila volt) ha avuto un problema di isolamento e un palo scaricava a terra, causando i primi scatti. Pare però che questo abbia causato una fiammata alla vicina cabina di trasformazione, che a sua volta ha pregiudicato tre cabine di distribuzione. Poiché ripassare il cavo all’una di notte, sotto la pioggia, era un po’ difficile hanno deciso di andare per la costosa via di chiamare dei gruppi elettrogeni. Però due non sono stati abbastanza, e ovviamente qual’è l’area interessata dal terzo, che è stato chiamato da Treviso? La mia.

Domani comincierò a vedere per fare una bella protesta generale contro Enel visto che mi pare impossibile che un cavo così, dall’oggi al domani, abbia problemi di isolamento. Più probabile che il problema di isolamento sia della zona e che qualcuno abbia ronfato sui controlli. Comunque, non è simpatico.

Outages, once again

It has been a few months since I last written about power outages but history repeated itself again yesterday.

There has been a tiny hurricane in my area yesterday, a lot of trees had their branches, and their tips, broken out, included the pine you see in this photo from last March:

DSCN0628

Some branches, and a tree, ended up falling on the power cable, so after the “hurricane” there has been a little outage for about an hour and a half, that’s fine, it’s quite common and understandable.

Less understandable is that, about six hours later, the power company takes the power again without warning. Their phone service not updating on the status of the outage, and their technicians not in the known about when it would be fixed. I called them again at 1.30 again, and they told me to “be patient”, as they had four people on the job, and a mess to fix, on another line before they could check mine.

The power returned at 5am, it means a 6 hours downtime. Luckily I had my DS charged so I played a bit. I could connect with the laptop for a few hours, but the battery runs out quite quickly when it’s locked on the cellphone to get the UMTS connection.

Sigh, again, not the best place to live for me, I guess.

Idiozie, poste ed Enel

Della serie, siamo proprio in Italia, oggi mi sono scontrato con un bel po’ di idiozie burocratico-amministrative dei nostri cari fornitori nazionali.

Oggi scadono le bollette di Enel e Wind, visto che in questa casa eravamo fermi ancora al secolo scorso, abbiamo mantenuto finora l’uso di pagarle con bollettino postale (anche se a me disgusta per una serie di motivi). Solo che la bolletta di Wind non è arrivata, e quindi non abbiamo il bollettino postale.

Chiama la Wind, ci chiedono di verificare che l’indirizzo sia corretto. Ovviamente non lo è. Io abito in comune di Venezia, fuori Zelarino, alla periferia di Mestre, CAP 30174 da sempre… ma il CAP copre mezza Mestre Nord e zone limitrofe, quindi è abbastanza esteso. Nel riordinare l’anagrafica, Wind ha aggiornato il nostro indirizzo a 30174 Gazzera Venezia. Gazzera è una zona dall’altra parte di Mestre.

Il centro meccanografico di Padova ignora completamente il CAP pare, e invece utilizza la città per indicare dove smistare la posta. E ha smistato la nostra bolletta dall’altra parte della città.. il che ha causato ritardi tali che alla data di scadenza non sta ancora qua. Non che sia la prima volta (solo che di solito i ritardi c’erano pure con l’indirizzo giusto!).

Vabbé è venuto il momento di adeguarsi al nuovo secolo, e visto che i miei hanno cambiato banca, mi metto a guardare per attivare le domiciliazioni di Wind ed Enel. Prendo in mano la bolletta dell’Enel e vedo “30174 Zalarino Venezia”. Non è possibile, pure questo è sbagliato!

Vaaaa bene, www.prontoenel.it e vediamo di pagare ‘sta bolletta con domiciliazione. Inserisco tutti i dati (notare che se uso Ò sul cognome, che va segnato in maiuscolo, mi dà errore, devo usare ò e lasciare che la trasformi lui se vuole), e mi viene fuori una bella pagina di AVVISO (sic) che mi dice “DOMICILIAZIONE BANCARIA:Nessuna segnalazione predisposta”… ho come l’impressione che sia un errore della loro webapp.

Vabbé modulistica e si fa a mano come sempre. Intanto vediamo di cambiare l’indirizzo della bolletta che almeno arrivi giusto. Inserisco l’indirizzo di casa (tra l’altro ti fanno selezionare Via in mezzo ad un elenco di possibili toponomastiche), metto come indirizzo 30174 Mestre, che è il più sensato. No, mi dice che Mestre non è comune… grazie eh, lo so. Seleziono Venezia e buonanotte…. no, manca Via Scaramuzza a Venezia. Però c’è Via Scaramuzza Everardo… solo che per il limite del modulo, esplicitato anche sui campi la via può essere lunga 14 caratteri massimo. Ovviamente “Scaramuzza Everardo” sono più di 14 caratteri, lo tronca automaticamente in “Scaramuzza Eve”… solo che non esiste a Venezia.

Una telefonata al callcenter dopo (cosa che dovrebbe prendere più tempo che utilizzare il sistema online se avesse funzionato), e la domiciliazione è a posto e l’indirizzo è cambiato.. voglio far notare che all’operatore al telefono Mestre risulta un’opzione valida per la città, mentre tramite il loro sito no.

Per fortuna ora con la domiciliazione posso attivare l’arrivo via e-mail della fattura, quindi l’indirizzo servirà più probabilmente per i reclami che faccio ogni anno per via della pessima fornitura di corrente che mi ritrovo.

Another power outage

It seems to be a common factor every month, the power company disconnects us for a few hours (between 3 and 6, every time longer than my two UPSes can sustain) and I’m forced to use the UMTS phone to connect.

Today I was also going to wrk all day long if it wasn’t for this not-so-small problem.

Anyway, I put a few more photos on the Sony Reader photoset. At the end I bought the Postfix book from O’Reilly, as I had to fix a thing in xine-project’s bugzilla already — and now I might be able to learn how postfix works for once, and I used it for the photo. Later I’ll prepare a photo with the Not So Short Guide to LaTeX2e optimised for the Reader as I promised.

Now it would be nice if O’Reilly started providing Reader-sized PDFs in the future ;)

Okay I’m in a power outage but…

.. what I’m wondering is why a friend of mine, living two kilometres from me, still has power. Why do I have to stay exactly at the border of one of the worse-served towns in the area?

Anyway, at least today I could sleep as I did shut down the UPSes before going to sleep, so I wake up just one hours (now half an hour) before the (supposedly) outage end.

Oh well, I’ll have some lunch soon, then I have to prepare myself as I have some job meeting today, and then I’ll have to go to my doctor to see if he can change the blood thinner I’m taking to something less.. risky.

Update: it’s 14.14 right now, the outage should have ended at 13:30, so we’re now at 5 hours 44 minute of outage. I wonder how much they can stretch it before I can sue them.

Update 2: it’s 14:24, my mother called the call center of the power company, they were not ready to answer calls about this, the answering machine that usually covers these work in progress was not active, and the operators took ten minutes to answer what the hell was going on. And they say that it will require at least another 30 minutes. This brings us to more than six hours of outage. In winter. With 9°C outside. Now I really start to think about suing them.

Boring power company

So today I woke up very early. Why? Because the power company decided to shut us down again.

It’s not unusual, the Italian ENEL is known for these service problems. It should be enough to say that the nominal voltage in Italy is still 220V, which allows them to provide, within law limits, down to 198V; while a lot of modern hardware handle 110 to 240 V, not so recent hardware doesn’t really like being served less than 200V in their European models.

So, one of the three UPSes I have is currently disconnected and shut down, as I was cleaning up the office, where I currently have just Enterprise and the WRT router. This left me with two UPSes screaming for their power. One in the office and one downstairs. The latter is even more obnoxious because there is no way to shut it down.

When I was able to get up the bed I was able to shut down the one in the office, an APC SmartUPS. It has just what you need: a power-off button. Simple as that. The Mustek downstairs doesn’t have but a “test” button that moves the sockets to battery even if the cable is inserted and has power.

Now I’m just waiting for the Mustek to die and shut down the network. Then I’ll be left playing Pokémon on the DS, and listening to podcasts and music on the iPod…