electric box

The fuse box in Rob Rand’s Roman home. Photo: Robert Rand


By Robert Rand, BURN Editor

Living in Rome is nice. No doubt about it. All those wonderful stereotypes – the food, the wine, the ruins, the beautiful people, the coffee – they’re pretty much true. These delights have a purpose beyond pure hedonism. They tend to offset Rome’s less palatable side: the inefficiencies, the bureaucracies, the dirtiness, the traffic chaos. And, for the energy sensitive, the exasperating manner in which Roman apartments burn electricity.

Italians depend on electricity just as Americans do, and they pay a much higher price for it – on average, almost twice as much. But if the high electric bills here don’t provide enough incentive to conserve energy, there’s something else: a built-in ceiling for electricity consumption.

Most Italian homes – mine included – run on 3 kilowatts of electricity. If the limit is exceeded – if your electrical system carries more current than it is designed to handle – POP go the lights, and everything else.

This is not something I generally worried about before moving from the US to Rome. The typical American residence has a maximum power capacity of twenty to fifty kilowatts. In the US – in my experience, at least – blowing a fuse was something my exasperated father did. Or it was a summertime affair, when overwrought air conditioners sucked up all available electric power.

Here in Rome you don’t need an air conditioner to blow a fuse. In my apartment, the simultaneous use of a dishwasher and oven will do it. The washing machine and electric water kettle also make for a lethal combination. When my son turns on his power-sucking PS3, we all have to walk tippy toe, lest an errant appliance start up throw us over the 3kw threshold.

Flipping a switch in our central circuit panel always restores the power. We keep flashlights within arm’s reach to illuminate a path to the fuse box when the lights snap off.

We could increase our power capacity by paying the electric company more money, but we prefer to economize. As one consumer put it to a disgruntled expat, “Are you truly so disorganized that you can’t arrange your life so that the cooker is never on at the same time as the dishwasher? It is really incredibly simple, if finances are a problem, to live with minuscule supply and sensible power management.”