Storytelling Meters: episodes 6-8

with Joaquim Moreno


These Storytelling Meters, these objects with stories inside, are windows aggregating new narratives. Each meter tells a part of the story: from collection to tariffs, from production to the domestic appliances animated by electricity, from public lighting to electric mobility, from network management to defence against fraud, or from mechanical metering to electronic metering. Each one of these meters brings together objects, instruments and documents that tell its biography, and each of these episodes is a temporary constellation within the technological collection of the EDP Foundation and maat – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, a story that opens the door to many others, to new ways of looking at the History of Energy and to give renewed energy to the museum.

Joaquim Moreno graduated in Architecture at the University of Porto, and holds a Master’s from the Barcelona Technical School of Architecture and a PhD from Princeton University. He was co-curator, with the philosopher José Gil, of the Portuguese representation at the Venice Architecture Biennial 2008, and, with Paula Pinto, the exhibition Guido Guidi – Carlo Scarpa. Brion Tomb (Garagem Sul/CCB, Lisbon, 2015). More recently, he curated The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture (Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, 2017) which examined a key experiment by The Open University to mobilise new media environments for distance and adult education.

In 2021, maat inaugurated a new programme around the EDP Foundation collections. Both collections — Portuguese Art and Energy Heritage — are regularly presented within the spaces of Central through an invitational series of curatorial projects by diverse experts, researchers and thinkers that are intended to engage with this reservoir of knowledge from multiple intellectual vantage points. By providing alternative conceptual and scholarly interpretations, the programme aims to bring forward new readings to enlighten historical, social and technological narratives that go beyond those of the collection itself.


Conceived by the architecture historian and curator Joaquim Moreno, Storytelling Meters (maat, 24/04/2021 – 07/03/2022) is the first exhibition that uses various archival artefacts – visual items, objects and appliances – from the EDP Foundation Energy Heritage Collection. The EDP Foundation Energy Heritage Collection was started in 1998. It gathers around 3,500 pieces linked to the history of electricity in Portugal, some of them dating back to the 19th century. These include items of domestic, personal and industrial use, including machinery and equipment — measuring devices and meters, household appliances, illumination and lab equipment — as well as a vast collection of documents.




Coin-operated or pre-paid meters dispense with contracts and fee collection and allow people to consume energy by the “kilo”, like buying a kilo of flour or rice. But connecting a fridge to one of these meters make the downsides of discontinuous supply obvious. Ensuring continuity of supply, and thus keeping the freezer always on, has other costs, which are multiplied by the tariff and reflected in the bill. The tariff does not sell the wind that blows, the water that flows or the sun that shines, which belong to everyone; what it sells are units of energy priced according to the amount consumed. Ad contrarium, a coin-operated meter makes us more aware of the value of the continuity that allows us to turn on the light when we get home.


Alongside mechanical meters there were also flesh and blood meters; that is, people who would come and read the meter and collect payment for our power usage. Wearing a uniform and an ID, it was the meter reader-collector who interacted most closely with consumers. He was also the best witness to the myriad of ways some customers found to get around metering and payment. Collectors would come across tricky schemes big and small, outright swindling, meter tampering and illegal connections on a daily basis. This phenomenon provides a good counter-image of the system, with such narratives offering a window onto the social and human difficulties of making the system work.


How can we make the use of the hydroelectric energy of the river, which flows day and night, compatible with the rhythms of daily life? With a meter that encourages to balance the consumption through a multi-rate tariff that rewards consumption in off-peak ‘empty’ hours. These objects tell of the strange intimacy between the prodigious force of a river, the turbines of the power plant that transforms it, the regulation and synchronisation that makes it possible to manage multiple dams, the synoptic tables that govern the network in real time – a complex system of production, distribution and consumption that needs to consume all the energy thrown into it – and the thousands of washing machines that lull the nights of thousands of homes.





The "Storytelling Meters Episodes" videos, with Joaquim Moreno, were commissioned to Adversa by maat / EDP Foundation.