Cooking the Clocks

After you live in Switzerland for a while, a sense of orderliness and timeliness begins to creep into your psyche. You’ll know it has happened when you realise that the smallest things being out of order annoy you. Here’s the latest….

I have a microwave and oven set above each other in my kitchen. Most of the time, the clocks are in sync. Occasionally they are off by a minute, and when I notice that, I wait and watch to see how long it takes before they display the same time. If it’s just a few seconds, that’s close enough and I let it slide. But if it takes TOO LONG, I check the time on my phone and then adjust the errant appliance as needed.

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The offending appliances, with a 2-minute(!) time differential

The other day, however, I noticed that the clocks not only were not in sync, they were off by three minutes. This, of course, is unacceptable to my acquired Swiss mentality. How do I know what time it really is when I am getting such conflicting information? If the kitchen clocks aren’t correct, it means I will not leave on time, which means I will be either early or late for the tram I want to catch. This cannot be. So I dutifully checked the time on my phone and set both clocks to that time and thought nothing more of it.

At Book Chat the following week, Suzanne happened to say something about clocks being messed up because the electricity production in Eastern Europe was being impacted by weather and other factors and therefore affecting the way appliances kept time. To a person, we had noticed this happening but hadn’t a clue why. It was nice to realise there was a reason, that we weren’t going crazy or imagining gremlins in the kitchens.

I looked into it today, and learned that the problem stems from a failure on the part of power companies to maintain a mean frequency of 50 hertz (not that this clarified much for my non-science brain). These reduced frequencies caused clocks which are dependent on the power grid, like those in my—and your—kitchen appliances, to lose time, apparently at different rates. According to this article, since mid-January power companies in Kosovo and Serbia have been failing to mutually balance their electricity grids when irregularities arise: under the grid codes of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E—who knew there was such a thing!), “they are obliged to maintain a mean frequency of 50 hertz (oscillations per second) and help each other out if necessary.”

This lack of coordination caused power deficits of the larger regional grid control area  of Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro; the recent reductions affected 25 of the member-states, including Switzerland.

Since the beginning of the problems in January, this irregularity has amounted to roughly six minutes, enough to drive anyone in Switzerland utterly insane.

2 thoughts on “Cooking the Clocks

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