20 July 2010

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

To my Electricity Company,

Mark Twain popularised the saying, 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'  I suspect he had seen the final page of my electricity bill.

Over the last two billing periods, I have been puzzled to see the graph appearing on page three of my electricity bill, claiming that my household electricity usage over the last quarter (the enormous grey block on the graph) was approximately twice the average usage in my regional area (the markedly shorter block on the graph.)

Leaky hot water system notwithstanding, I hardly think that we are using twice the energy of average families in my local area.

You stated that you worked out the average by taking all residential customers in my local region who have been billed recently, and then found the median household usage in kilowatt hours.

I am not a statistician, but even I can see the problem with your calculations.  It's apples and oranges, isn't it?

You are comparing my household usage with everyone else's.  You are comparing me, with electricity as my sole power source, with my neighbours, some of whom are using 70% gas or 50% solar energy.  And when I ask my neighbours using gas to add the totals of their electricity and gas bills, their answers prove that we are paying a similar amount in total for power.  Those using solar energy still haven't broken even following the installation of their expensive solar panels.

Clever, and a little bit sneaky.  You're making an unfair comparison and making householders like me feel terrible about our electricity consumption.

Perhaps, in the interests of using statistics with integrity, you would consider removing from each consumer's electricity bill the section comparing their household electricity usage with your meaningless calculation of the regional "average".

It certainly appears that by doing so, you would be able to halve the paper used in each bill from two pages to one, thereby saving paper, and of course the water and -dare I say- electricity consumption involved in its manufacture.

Just a thought.

Statistically yours,


Hippomanic Jen said...

I wonder if their region includes us.

I wonder this because we don't use gas or solar (although we do have a new heat pump electric hotwater system so it's probably still not fair) and we use 40% less power than the average.

But we also only have 2 people in our house. We OUGHT to use less power.

But surely with the current move towards markets for carbon credits and such things we can average out OUR bills and we're all good. Then I don't feel smug, and you don't feel guilty.

But you're probably right about the relative cost. (and certainly right about the paper thing)

John Ross said...

I had not heard that particular Twain quote. very apt. Yup, corporations in general and utilities for sure, seem to have a knack for cooking the books so to speak, statistically. Ok, and banks. Oh, and government bureaucracies. and...you get the picture.

veiledturnip said...

Love your letter. I have often pondered over our graph and wondered how it could be so high. When Mr energy saver man came around he said we were hardly using any power, but according to our bill we are quite wasteful! So now we have to be air-con smart (18 degrees in winter does not feel smart)and walk around in the dark in an effort to make our graph lower!
(oh..no verification word!)

Givinya De Elba said...

No word verification, true! Am trialling it without.

Our Climate Smart guy said our usage was spot-on compared to other families like us.

I'm cheering along with Hip-Jen: even though the stats are meaningless, the fact that she comes out on the happy side of them is good.

The Climate Smart guy said that there's no way we could compare ourselves to people of different family size though, so I'm trying not to get depressed about Jen's bill!


(Not working.)

veiledturnip said...

And think of all the people who aren't home all day every day using power at home - but using it at work...

Anonymous said...

Use their graph page to light your wood fire. PMN

Givinya De Elba said...

Kindling. Good idea!

Snossy said...

hey mine was like that too!!! was stunned that they could say ours was SO much higher than other people. glad i wasn't alone in thinking that was weird.

Givinya De Elba said...

Oh my dear, you are not alone! At all! Most of my friends and I are in the guilty silent majority, hoping we don't get attacked by smugness!