Well, That Was A Shock!

We just got our first full electric bill and Won’s not happy. It was €307 ($337 USD). I’m pretty sure that if we had a defibrillator handy, he wouldn’t have let me use it to revive him.

How is it possible that we used that much electricity??? Our apartment is only 106 square meters (1141 square feet). To put this in perspective, the electric bill for the month of February when we lived in Chester, New Jersey was $169 (€153). [He wasn’t particularly happy about that bill either, but I digress…] The Chester house was huge – 372 square meters (4001 sq ft not including the nearly 2000 square foot finished basement).

As is the case in the US, the electric company comes out once a month to read the meter. Our meter is located inside our apartment and unfortunately we missed them when they came by. But, unlike the US, they sent Won a text telling him he needed to log on to the electric company website and upload the number. After doing so, he received an immediate message telling him the amount was significantly higher than the prior month. I reminded him that the first month’s bill included time when the apartment was empty prior to our move in so this one would naturally be higher. We just didn’t realize how that was going to equate to cost.

Back to looking at that bill… After we both had a glass of wine to ensure a civil, productive conversation, we started tossing out ideas on what could be impacting the number. The first thing I thought of was the cost of electricity. We had heard anecdotal stories that the cost of electricity in Portugal was high, but we hadn’t fact checked that information. Won pulled up the electric bill from Chester and compared the cost per kilowatt hour (kWh) there to what we pay here. Turns out they aren’t significantly different. In Portugal it is €0.16 kWh (or $0.18 USD using current conversion rates). In Chester it was $0.14 USD (or €0.13). So, while there is a bit of a difference, it’s not huge. I think people believe it is more expensive here because electricity is the primary energy source so they use more.

Of course Won immediately threw out leaving the lights on in the master bath, which I perpetually forget to turn off, along with the towel warmer issue (refer to Random Musings on why this is). I bristled, but knew he had a point. I countered with the fact that we had been using two of our space heaters to help dry the laundry. He agreed that the heaters would be a contributing factor. [For anyone new to my blog, please refer to Home Sweet Home for background on the laundry situation.]

We continued to noodle on what other culprits there could be, but after scratching our heads for a few minutes we couldn’t think of anything else. We live in a small place. It’s only the two of us. We don’t have central air or heat. Could Sweet Pea be a factor? Who knows! She might be getting up in the middle of the night to read or watch TV while we’re sleeping. Nah…but, there had to be something else.

Then I remembered that we have an induction cook top as opposed to gas which is what we had in the States and we no longer grill because we have no outdoor space (which is a TOTAL bummer because we love to grill). This means we are using our oven and cook top a lot. It suddenly occurred to me that all of our appliances use electricity including our water heater. In New Jersey the water heater, dryer, stove and cook top all used natural gas and natural gas is a lot less expensive than electricity. As an example, the bill for gas in February was $35 (€32). Ahhh…so this is what is driving up the electricity bill!

We agreed to make a concerted effort to turn off the bathroom lights and the towel warmer. The weather is warming up and there is less rain so we are already putting clothes out to dry instead of relying on the space heaters. Those are all good measures, but what else could we do???

Then I had an epiphany! The only other way to reduce the bill – other than taking fewer, shorter showers, and let’s face it, with self-isolation in full swing, THAT’s not going to happen – was to use the kitchen less. We calculated the difference between our electric bill here and what we typically paid in Chester including the gas bill. The difference came to approximately €121 ($133).

We had a choice. We could keep things the same and pay the electric company (boo, hiss) or we could use our kitchen less and eat out more often (yay!). We won’t spend less money, but we’ll have more enjoyable evenings and spend it in a far more pleasant way. Another added benefit is that there would be less food to buy too. Talk about a win win! Unfortunately, this awesome plan is on hold until after we are past the pandemic. Until then, Won has begun to follow me around the house ensuring we turn off lights to minimize electricity usage.

So, here it is, 8:37PM on Saturday, March 28th (pre-Daylight Saving Time) and he followed me into the office to watch Netflix while I edited this blog post. This meant he could turn off the lights in the living room. I guess social distancing doesn’t work at home. Good thing we like each other.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay in touch!

From Portugal with love,

Beth

Published by Beth Thomas-Kim

After working in corporate America for companies like Mattel, Nestlé, and Johnson & Johnson, I retired and moved to Portugal in January of 2020 with my husband Won and our 12-year old wire fox terrier, Sweet Pea. We now live in Monte Estoril, a lovely seaside town just outside Lisbon. We spend our days happily exploring this beautiful country and learning about its fascinating history, engaging culture, warm and welcoming people, delicious food and wine, and stunning architecture. This blog was started primarily as a way to keep family and friends updated on our transition from the US to Portugal. Now, my subscribers include people from all over the world. Enjoy!

16 thoughts on “Well, That Was A Shock!

  1. Love your blogs Beth. Keep them coming. Maybe Won can get on a bike at home and self generate electricity for your apartment 🙂

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    1. Hey!! That’s not a bad idea! Thanks!! I promise to keep the blog posts coming. 👍 Thanks for taking the time to read them. I really appreciate it. Give my best to Meeka!

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  2. Hi Beth,

    Hello from LA! I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoy your musings from Portugal! I spend a considerable amount of time in Florence and have seriously considered moving there. You and Won and your adventurous spirits have been an inspiration to me. Life in LA is not all that different today than the rest of the world. Fortunately, the staff at All Saints has done a good job of keeping everyone engaged, with daily Compline and Sunday Morning Prayer. If you and Won have an interest in participating, I can send you the Zoom link. Keep “From Portugal With Love,” coming and stay safe! Peace, Tim Blair

    >

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    1. Hello!!! What a lovely surprise to hear from you Tim! Thank you for your delightful and kind message. I’m so happy that the experiences we are sharing here are inspiring you. I hope one day you take that plunge and move. It’s an incredible experience. Thank you for your thoughtful offer to send the Zoom link compline and Sunday morning prayer. Given the 8 hour difference Sunday morning prayer would be afternoon prayer for us. 🙂 Send the link anyway though. If we can make it work, we’ll join in. Give our love to everyone at ASBH. We have a special place in our hearts for that wonderful place. And, take good care of Janet. We found her first in NJ!!!

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  3. What a nasty surprise! But it sounds like the two of you did a great job of team sleuthing to arrive at the most pleasant alternative…. once restaurants re-open and our self isolated lives go back to normal. In the meantime, good luck whatever you can do. Maybe get Sweet Pea a little treadmill that you can hook up to an indoor generator? LOL. Glad you’re maintaining your mutual sense of humor!

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  4. Thanks for the information ! The cost of electricity is definitely eye opening but what made me reach for a straw and a bottle of wine (didn’t need a glass) was drying your clothes with a space heater. That being said I used a glass when I read the best option is going out to eat!

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    1. Love your sense of humor! Yes…given our 100% reliance on electricity as our only energy source, our bills tend to be higher, but we haven’t seen a monthly bill that high since that specific month (it is now November 2020 when I’m replying to you). We are interested to see if we hit that mark again as we head into Dec/Jan/Feb. And, yes…we do use the space heater to dry our clothes if we HAVE to do a load when it’s raining or when it is too cool to get them dry outside. There are laundromats, but we prefer to do our laundry at home if we can, for no other reason than we don’t have to sit at the laundromat. We’ve adapted quite well to this new situation and don’t mind it anymore. (BTW – does Mark happen to play golf?)

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  5. Hi Beth, Pam and I had a long conversation about this post; it was very helpful. Our home in Dallas is an “all electric” home as well but uses a heat pump (3 actually) to maintain the temperature inside. Even so, our bills can skyrocket in the summer ($420 in July). The reason is that using electricity for heating (resistive heat) or cooling (with a central HVAC system) is actually pretty inefficient. Resistive heating with a cooktop, hot water heat, iron, or space heaters draws a huge amount of current, hence the high bills in any part of the world.

    So, my inner geek appeared and I did a bit of research on solar power. It turns out that Portugal has the most sunny days of any country in Europe and the government is ramping up the installation of solar power systems. Fortunately, there are no local laws prohibiting the use of solar panels and there are several companies that will install them in your home or apartment (assuming you own it and the HOA has no objections).

    But even if you rent, if you have a south or western facing terrace, you can put out a couple of portable solar panels (used by intrepid RVers in the states) and generate enough electricity to power your TV, electronic devices, and 12 volt lights (such as LCD lights). And if you purchase a large enough battery storage system, you can even run a microwave.

    Then, if you add a smart home system to the mix, the lights will not turn on unless someone is either in the room or you “ask” the system to turn them on (that’s how my home office is set up now).

    I need to do a power consumption analysis to see what the ROI on this approach would be but I suspect you could break even in less than a year. You still have to pay for the resistive heat devices but you could make a dent in the lower voltage current draws and reduce your bill.

    PS – when we move there, this is part of what I plan to do. So, I’ll have more data once we have our system up and running.

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    1. Wow Mark, you have really done your homework – impressive! Thanks for all the info. It makes really good sense too. Unfortunately, we don’t have a terrace or deck on the place we’re at right now (a wish list item we had to give up because we were limited in the number of apartments available to us because we have a dog), but you are right; Portugal receives ~300 days of sunshine a year, which from our experience to date, is true. For most of the year, we can just hang our laundry out to dry and our electric bill is manageable. It is only during the winter months when it can be rainy that we sometimes need to pull them inside to dry with the space heater. If we’re in a real jam, we can always take a load to a local laundromat. After that first month our electric bills have averaged 139 Euros per month. Looking forward to meeting you when you guys get here!

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