Italy announces plan to end reliance on Russian gas by 2025

The Italian government plans to phase out the country's heavy reliance on gas imports from Russia "within 30 months", the minister for the ecological transition said on Tuesday.

Italy announces plan to end reliance on Russian gas by 2025
Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP

Italy is working on short- and long-term plans to slash the amoun of natural gas imported from Russia, Minister for the Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani said on Tuesday.

“24-30 months should be enough time for us to become independent [from Russian gas supplies],” Cingolani told Rai 3’s Agorà talk show.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine last month has prompted European countries to rethink their dependence on Russia, which supplies around 40 percent of the natural gas used in Europe.

READ ALSO: How will the Russian invasion affect Italy’s gas supplies and prices?

Households and businesses in Italy and across Europe were already struggling with the soaring cost of utilities before Russia’s invasion sparked concern about energy security and further cost increases.

Italy is one of Europe’s biggest users and importers of natural gas, importing 90 percent of its gas supply with 45 percent of that coming from Russia – up from 27 percent ten years ago.

Italy now imports 29 billion cubic metres of Russian gas a year, which Cingolani said on Tuesday “must be replaced”.

He said Italy is putting a plan into place which means half of the current Russian gas supply, 15 billion cubic metres, will be replaced “by late spring” – but he didn’t specify with what.

Italy has no nuclear capability, only two operational coal power plants, and gets only 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources according to Eurostat data from 2020.

Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi last week said Italy urgently needed to return to producing its own gas.

“In Italy, we have reduced gas production from 17 billion cubic metres per year in 2000 to around 3 billion cubic metres in 2020,” Draghi said, adding that national consumption ”has remained constant, between approximately 70 and 90 billion cubic metres”.

Italy is an important market for Russian gas exports. Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Italy must “increase domestic production at the expense of imports, because gas produced in your own country is more manageable and can be cheaper,” he said.

Draghi said Italy also intends to increase natural gas imports from the United States, as well as increasing the supply from pipelines including TAP from Azerbaijan, TransMed from Algeria and Tunisia, and GreenStream from Libya.

For longer-term gas supplies, “we are working on reinforcing infrastructure and long-term contracts,” Cingolani said on Tuesday.

The Italian government has repeatedly described gas as a “transition fuel” needed during the country’s long-term plan to use more renewable energy.

Cingolani said the country is now aiming for “55 percent decarbonisation” and that “at the moment the gas from Russia is flowing, therefore we are able to stick to the roadmap.”

Though Draghi last week suggested that Italy could reopen its closed coal power plants “to fill any shortcomings in the immediate future”. Cingolani ruled this option out, saying it would be too expensive.

He added that, “in the case of an absolute lack of energy”, Italy’s two functioning coal plants – in the port cities of Brindisi and Civitavecchia – “could be brought up to full capacity, in order to produce energy for a limited period”.

“If, for some reason, the supply from Russia, plus our current reserves, were to cease, this would give us enough time to get to the warm season,” he said.

But, he said, “we will not reopen anything . The plants that are closed will not reopen, because it would not be worth the expense”.

The minister appeared confident that Italy’s gas supply from Russia remains secure, saying European imports “earn the Russians almost one billion euros a day. I’m not sure they want to shut down”.

READ ALSO: Rising energy prices: How to save money on your bills in Italy

Italy’s plan were announced as the European Commission published plans on Tuesday to cut dependency on Russian gas by two-thirds across the EU this year, and to end reliance on Russian supplies “well before 2030”, Reuters reported.

The EC said countries would be responsible for implementing its plan, which is centred on switching to alternative supplies in the short-term and speeding up the transition to clean energy.

Italy’s minister for the ecological transition did not mention on Tuesday any drive to invest further or speed up the country’s move towards more sustainable energy sources.

However, Draghi acknowledged last week that “the most valid answer in the long term lies in proceeding quickly, as we are doing, towards greater development of renewable sources.”

He said the current situation “demonstrates the imprudence of not having diversified more our energy sources and our suppliers in recent decades.”

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Drought hits Italy’s hydroelectric plants amid energy crisis

Hydroelectric power production in Italy has plunged this year thanks to a severe drought that has also sparked water restrictions and fears for agriculture, industry sources said on Friday.

Drought hits Italy's hydroelectric plants amid energy crisis

Hydropower facilities, mostly located in the mountains in the country’s north, usually cover almost one fifth of Italy’s energy demands.

But the ongoing lack of rain is causing problems at a time when Rome is desperately trying to wean itself off its dependence on Russian gas due to the war in Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Italy’s heatwave to last another week and get even hotter, say forecasts

“From January to May 2022, hydro production fell by about 40 percent compared to the corresponding period in 2021,” a spokesman for Utilitalia, a federation of water companies, told AFP.

“Hydro production has been steadily decreasing since July 2021,” he said, blaming “the severe shortage of water even at high levels”.

An industry source told AFP that while the situation was constantly changing, estimates for the first six months of 2022 suggest nationwide hydroelectric generation will be almost half the equivalent period of 2021.

One small plant near Piacenza, southeast of Milan, was shut indefinitely on June 21st due to low levels on the River Po that feeds it, the Enel energy company said.

READ ALSO: How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

“Considering the current drought situation, other hydro plants are not operating at full capacity,” a spokesman added, without giving further details.

The Po River, which stretches across the north of the country, is Italy’s largest reservoir of fresh water. Much of it used by farmers, but the area is suffering its worst drought for 70 years.

Italy’s largest agricultural association, Coldiretti, said the drought is putting over 30 percent of national agricultural production and half of livestock farming in the Po Valley at risk.

Local authorities say the situation in the area has been “extremely delicate” since last week, with four regions asking the national government to declare a state of emergency and hundreds of towns now rationing water.

In the northwest region of Piedmont, water is being rationed in more than 200 municipalities according to the ANSA news agency.

Drought in Italy: What water use restrictions are in place and where?

The Maggiore and Garda lakes are both far lower than usual for this time of year, while further south, the level of the Arno, Aniene and Tiber rivers have also dropped.

Arid conditions are set to worsen as the heatwave currently gripping Italy is expected to last until the end of June, with temperatures around the country of “up to 40°C in the shade” forecast early next week.

In Milan and Turin, a massive increase in electricity usage for cooling day and night has pushed the electricity grid beyond its limits over the past week, leading to blackouts.

With many parts of Europe experiencing unusually high temperatures for this time of year, experts have repeatedly warned that longer, earlier heatwaves are a consequence of global heating.

“As a result of climate change, heatwaves are starting earlier,” said Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.

“What we’re witnessing today is unfortunately a foretaste of the future” if concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise and push temperatures towards 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, she added.