Posted by: Li Ling Young | October 10, 2013

Energy in Italy

Had a great family trip to Italy in August.  Nik and I still haven’t recovered at work, which is one reason we haven’t posted in so long.

The whole time we were there I was checking out the energy situation.  Here’s a few things I noticed…

  1. Some incandescent, non-efficient lighting remains.  I was expecting EVERYTHING to be state of the art efficient.  But everywhere we stayed there was some unholy combination of edison bulbs, halogens, CFL’s and LED’s.  The big villa, where we spent a week with Nik’s family, had a couple of CFL’s on a three way switch.  The switch was not designed to work with CFL’s and one night we got the switches in the wrong position and the bulbs flashed ALL NIGHT LONG (did I mention they were in our bedroom?)  Well, Nik unscrewed them after a while, but they would have flashed forever.
  2. Very old buildings get used for lots of different things over time.  I’m pretty sure our apartment in Rome used to be a garage, and before that…  Maybe a stable?  Comfort and air quality were fine, but I’d guess it gets kind of chilly in the winter.
  3. On demand water heaters are the norm.  They’re noisy, but not awful, and I guess people are just accustomed to that.
  4. The apartment in Venice was on the ground level: very damp and smelly.  There were dehumidifiers there, but they were off when we arrived.  To keep that place comfortable would have taken a lot of energy.  It’s a doomed apartment.  Someday soon the water will come up and not recede and that apartment will be under water.

    Old and new coexisting in Rome.

    Old and new coexisting in Rome.

  5. Our gondolier (great guy named Luca; look him up if you go to Venice told us that permitting to do work on historic buildings takes so long that buildings decay from not having the cement coating replaced often enough.  Very sad to see the buildings in such poor shape.
  6. In Rome they had a carshare, but I only saw one car.  In a smallish town in Le Marche we saw a bikeshare rack filled with bikes.
  7. There were bidets in every bathroom (except public bathrooms, but those had toilet brushes, which I thought was a very nice touch.)  Not sure what that has to do with energy, but it certainly says something about the culture.
  8. Garbage was picked up EVERY day at your door in both Rome and Venice.  In the countryside you can take your garbage to a roadside collection point (never very far) for free.  Very clean every where.  Littering must be socially repugnant.  Now that I think of it, why do we charge people to keep tidy?  Garbage disposal should be free!
  9. It appears that the settlement pattern in the hill country is something that only would have arisen when it was not common to leave home frequently.  The roads are very contorted.  Homes and villages are sprinkled about with no apparent thought to transportation efficiency.  It’s nice to imagine a time when one had everything one needed right there at home: work, food, companionship, inspiration, entertainment…  Spending time traveling really eats into the day.  Urban as we are, while at the villa in the countryside we drove somewhere nearly everyday.  It took me most of the week just to not get carsick at every trip.
  10. No clothes dryers.  Wherever there was a washing machine there was a way to hang clothes.  In Venice, Luca called the hanging laundry “traditional Venetian decoration”.
  11. In the city the buildings are covered in grime.  I’d guess it’s vehicle exhaust.  Only restored buildings were clean.  I imagine it’s a huge amount of work to continually counteract the cumulative effect of hundreds of thousands of little oil fires burning all day long.  In Venice the problem is gasoline and diesel boats.  Same problem, even worse fuel efficiency.

Have any stories about energy-related oddities from your travels?


  1. Thanks, Li Ling, for this interesting list of your observations in Italy! Like you, I especially appreciated the roadside garbage/recycling collection bins in Le Marche where there simply wasn’t any litter. Equally impressive were the junk-free, impeccable farmyards in Le Marche, as well as the late-model tractors being used to hay fields on 45 degree hillsides. Are there huge government subsidies for farmers there? Or is it the result of a thousand years of successful family farming?

    And what downsides did we miss? Noah discovered that the taxes one local paid on $100K were over $68K! Worth it for such a high quality of life? I never saw any signs of poverty in Le Marche, yet people complained about high unemployment.

    The most clever solar design I saw in Italy were in parking lots where the solar panels did double-duty by providing sun-screening for parked cars underneath.

    Also saw another “road innovation” outside Florence where the sound barriers along the autostrada were see-thru plastic or glass that kept the view open both ways and let in light while avoiding the dark “tunnel” feel of solid barriers.

  2. Nik reminded me of another, very charming energy-related convention in Venice… Aside from the canals the only way to get around is pedestrian paths. You might call them sidewalks in the US, except they’re not on the side of anything. On the bigger canals the land had been filled in to create wide plaza-like areas called “fondamentas”. But all the little original alleys also have shops, hotels, and businesses. So, how do you stock the restaurants? Move furniture? Deliver merchandise? Hand trucks! Just as the early morning of any city in the US is busy with delivery trucks, in Venice the morning is full of hand trucks.

    Also forgot to mention the solar farms in Le Marche. Hilly as it is, the rows of racks follow the contours of the hills, breaking up the mechanical uniformity of solar panels. All told we saw less solar than I would have expected, but we did see solar panels on several buildings and even small solar farms directly outside the walls of stone age village.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: