Sunday, April 25, 2010

Welcome to Portugal Part II

This is the second installment in an as yet undecided-part series about my exploits and energy observations in Portugal.

Part II: Where's the dryer?

The Portuguese are exceedingly practical when it comes to using the sun to dry their clothes. It came as a surprise to me since growing up in the U.S., most (if not all) families had both a washer and a dryer, and if not there were laundromats. (Sidebar: I would question the logic of adopting clothesline drying in my hometown near Washington, DC since most warm months are accompanied by such high humidity that it would make line drying take about as long as drying your laundry in a bathtub full of hot water.) Line drying works amazingly fast when it is sunny and dry, though. And it is so satisfying to take dry warm clothes off the line that you know took absolutely no electricity to dry. (Maybe I derive satisfaction in different ways than most people, though. It's a possibility.)

However, there is one flaw in the plan. Much like winter seems to take Portugal by surprise each year (by my experience of n=1 years), two to three-week bouts of rain make line drying laundry difficult if not impossible during January, February, and March. My roommates and I would race to the washer at the first sign of a sunny day, keeping an eye on the weather report as we put our clothes out to dry, and more than once racing to pull them down as it became clear our luck with the sun had run out. During one particularly long rainy spell, where I had used up virtually all of my clean clothes, I decided to use a laundromat. But upon asking a few Portuguese how to do this, getting some blank looks and "what is a laundromat?" questions, my only other timely option was to go to a dry cleaners. This expedition cost me about 20 euros for the equivalent of 2 loads of laundry - washed, dried, and folded. Lesson learned. My advice: when you come to Portugal for the winter, make sure you bring plenty of clean underwear. Or, you might want to open a would have my business.

Welcome to Portugal Part I

Such a long time has passed between my last post and now, I'll give a quick life update first and offer lame excuses as to why I haven't been posting.

In a nutshell, I'm in my second semester of a PhD program called Engineering and Public Policy through Carnegie Mellon University and Instituto Superior Tecnico-Lisbon. In January I moved to Lisbon, and in the interim I have worked to adjust to life in southern Europe and keep up with some demanding classes, which have left me with little energy or motivation for blogging.

But that will all change as of now. It is not so much that courses have gotten easier or there is less work to do, but that I am so full of interesting things to say about energy in Portugal that I am bursting at the seams to let it out. So here it goes...

Part I: What do you mean there's no heat?

This wasn't exactly what I said to my landlady upon arrival, because I had been warned by students who came here last year that this was generally the way things were in temperate Portugal. Most of the year it's no big deal, but for a few weeks in January the temperature in Lisbon flirts with freezing, usually settling in at 3-4 degrees C overnight. This made my first days after my arrival January 9th somewhat of a shock. My landlady introduced me to the wonders of the hot water bottle and the art of wearing layers indoors. I met other students from different parts of Europe and they, too, found the lack of indoor heating something to get used to. Even students from Eastern Europe, no strangers to cold, complained about the weather constantly those first weeks (the cold, but also the relentless rain - also a trademark of Lisbon in January). In talking to them we decided the difficult thing to get used to was the lack of temperature difference between inside and outside. They, like me, were used to entering warm buildings during winter. The Portuguese, to their credit, are not. Despite spending nights clinging to the hot water bottle I rather like the fact that the Portuguese can endure a few weeks of being chilly during the winter while often the first frost in October-November prompts homeowners in the states to crank up their thermostats to 65 F (I'm being generous here...usually its more like 72 F).

Well, this is part of the reason that Portugal's per capita energy consumption in 2006 was less than one third that of the United States' (downloads an xls file), and other reasons are forthcoming in subsequent parts of my newly christened "Welcome to Portugal" series. Stay tuned!