Before discussing how the power distribution system works, it is important to be reminded that in Italy voltage is 220 and frequency 50. Voltage is critical and before plugging in any appliance, one needs to make sure that it is compatible. Some appliances, such as telephone chargers, are self-adjusting, while others, such as some curling irons, need to be mechanically set via a switch. Others are not compatible at all. This is common for some electronics that manufacturers do not want distributed outside the US. Plugging in an appliance set for 110 v. into a 220 v. outlet will destroy it and possibly cause fire. Plugs are different, but you probably already knew that.
Frequency is nowadays of lesser importance, unless you are planning to bring along your old record player. Frequency mostly affects electrical motors. Higher voltage requires thinner wires, so do not be surprised if electrical wires in Italy are smaller. On the other hand, 220 v. gives a much stronger shock, so be careful handling electrical equipment.
In the past, there was a single State-run power company ENEL or ‘Ente Nazionale per l’Energia Elettrica’ (National Agency for Electricity). After deregulation, power distribution was assigned to the ‘Servizio Elettrico Nazionale’ (Electrical National Service) which takes care of distribution. Production is a combination of private, publicly controlled and foreign sources. Consumers can choose among a large number of providers (18 at my last count). These providers just sell you power and they do not even install a meter since those are provided by the grid.
No matter where you shop, power is expensive due to high taxation. These are average costs in an electrical bill:
- Electrical Power (47%)
- Delivery cost and metering (20%)
- Indirect taxes (19%)
- Other taxes (14%)
Other taxes will include the Canone TV License fee. This fee is charged to everyone owning a television, and the assumption is that you do.
In our experience, using ENEL Energia is the easiest choice and they have an English version of their web site. This company was born from the splitting of the old public company. They are by no means the best; they are just the largest.
Regardless if you rent or buy, electrical service should already be preset. The only question to ask is how many kilowatts are available to you. In the US, we are more used to describing service by Amps. An electrical panel in the US is usually 100 Amps or more, which would be about 8 kilowatts. In Italy, meters start as low as 1.5 Kw with an average house having 3.0 Kw and a larger one 5 Kw. You will quickly learn not to run the dishwasher, vacuum cleaner and hair dryer at the same time. Upgrading a meter to a higher Kw is done remotely, but it is very expensive (about €300 to go from 3 to 5 Kw).
Invest in low energy light bulbs (LED) and avoid electric heaters.
To obtain service you need to complete a ‘voltura’ or transfer of registrant. Let your real estate agent take care of it since it is complex. If you want to do it yourself, you will have to provide:
- Your tax ID code (Codice Fiscale).
- The POD code or Eneltel ID no. of the meter (for an electricity supply) or the PDR code (for a natural gas supply). You will see this on the tag attached to the meter or on the meter itself by using the digital display.
- The meter reading.
- The form declaring ownership or rightful possession of the property for which the electricity or gas supply is requested (certificate of residence).
You can do it over the internet but will need a scanner to send copies of your documents or you can do it in person at one of the local offices. The process may easily take a month or more from beginning to end. Meantime, service is still provided and the invoice is sent to the old registrant. Make sure you find these old invoices because they contain a form that you will need to take to a payment center (tobacconist or Post Office) in order to pay it.
The easiest way to handle payments is to have the ‘docimiliazione’ or automatic withdrawal from your checking account. Alternatively, every two months – that is the frequency of the invoice – you have to go to one of the outlets (NEL stores, banks, post office, betting offices, etc.) and manually pay it along with a transaction fee.
Most contracts call for variable prices based on the time of the day. In general, they fall under these guidelines:
With a high rate from 8:00 AM until 7:00 PM Monday through Friday and a lower rate at night and weekends. There are no special rates for holidays. Over time, doing laundry or using the dishwasher after hours pays back.
What if You Do Not Pay?
In Italy, the power company cannot completely remove service. If you fail to pay, they will leave you 15% of the original Kw available (usually 450 Watts, just enough for the refrigerator and lights). Getting power reconnected is tedious, so keep up with your payments. If you have a disability, get registered as disabled so that the power company cannot disconnect service.
All companies have a portal that you will use to manage your account. It is very important to sign up and gain access to this portal because the only alternative is a phone call to a call center and a long wait. The first time, you will ask your Italian friend to call the power company on your behalf. (Do not be surprised if they fake a sudden illness.) As already said, ENEL provides quite a bit of information in English.