How Italy plans to cut air conditioner use to save energy

In a move to cut energy consumption and help end reliance on Russian gas, the Italian government has approved plans to restrict the use of air conditioning from May.

How Italy plans to cut air conditioner use to save energy
Italy plans to cut energy consumption with air conditioner limits. Photo by Vladislav Nikonov on Unsplash

The Italian government on Thursday approved new limits on the use of air conditioning in public offices and schools from May 1st, as the country looks at new was to save energy and help waan itself off a heavy reliance on Russian gas imports.

READ ALSO: Italy will ‘soon’ stop buying gas from Russia, says minister

The move came via an amendment made on Thursday to the national energy decree, imposing temperature limits for radiators and air conditioners in public offices and schools.

While it is not yet law, the amendment has been approved by the government’s environment and business committee.

The Italian government said it aims to save 4 billion cubic metres of gas in 2022 by cutting the use of air conditioners in public buildings as part of its ‘operation thermostat’.

Ministers said on Thursday that Italy will be able to end its reliance on Russian gas within 18 months, after previously giving a timeframe of at least two years.

The government is pushing to diversify gas supplies after Italy’s prime minister talked earlier this month of the “question between peace and having working radiators, or air conditioning in summer”.

The new rules on air conditioning are due to come into force on May 1st and will remain in place until March 31st 2023, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

In public buildings, usage will be measured in the individual rooms of each building – the temperature must not exceed 19 degrees Celsius in winter and cannot be any lower than 27 degrees in summer, with a margin of tolerance of two degrees – meaning the lowest allowed temperature is actually 25C.

The measure does not currently apply to clinics, hospitals and nursing homes.

Fines for non-compliance with the rules are said to range from €500 to €3,000, although it’s not yet clear how checks or enforcement would be carried out.

So far, no details are known about how this will affect individuals in private buildings, though the government is reportedly planning measures to encourage the public to cut their use of air conditioning.

A further decree is reportedly being considered which would reduce municipal electricity consumption. That could mean fewer street lamps and delaying switching on the lights in apartment blocks.

Italy has long had rules in place limiting the usage of heating in homes and public buildings during winter.

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Lights out: How Christmas in Italy will be different this year

As the European energy crisis continues, some cities in Italy have chosen to save on electricity by downsizing regular Christmas displays, thus making this year’s festivities a little less flashy.

Lights out: How Christmas in Italy will be different this year

With less than a month to go until the Christmas holidays, many might be rejoicing at the prospect of finally seeing their cities lit up by dazzling Christmas displays.

But, as the European energy crisis shows no sign of abating and many cities across the boot keep struggling to square their accounts in the face of soaring bills, some residents may be disappointed to know that this year’s festive decorations might differ from the norm.

Milan, Italy’s economic capital, was one of the very first Italian cities to announce it would significantly reduce Christmas displays to save on energy.

READ ALSO: Lights off and home working: Milan’s new energy-saving plan for winter 

After reports emerged in early October that the city would end up spending a whopping €130 million on energy bills alone in 2022, Milan’s mayor, Giuseppe Sala, was quick to warn residents that Christmas decorations would be “restrained” and operate “for shorter periods of time”.

And, it wasn’t long before Sala made good on his promises. 

Earlier this month, the city’s authorities agreed on putting up decorations and light displays on December 7th (that is over two weeks after the usual date) and taking them down on January 6th instead of late January. 

Christmas lights in the streets of central Milan

Christmas lights in Milan will be switched on on December 7th, that is over two weeks after the usual switch-on date. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Also, while in previous years Milan’s city centre was illuminated overnight, this year’s Christmas lights will be switched on at 4pm and switched off at midnight. 

But, while Milan residents might be slightly dissatisfied with the new arrangements, they sure have little to complain about when compared to Rome residents. 

It’ll be a dark Christmas (literally and, perhaps, even figuratively) for most areas of the Eternal City and not merely because of the current energy crisis. 

READ ALSO: Energy crisis: The Italians reviving ‘nonna’s’ traditions to keep costs down

The city’s tender for this year’s Christmas lights contract received no bids before its deadline on October 27th, which means that, in many neighbourhoods, festive decorations will be largely left to the goodwill and financial means of the residents.

So while the popular Piazza di Spagna, Porta Pia and Via Alessandria will light up over the holiday season thanks to private funding, the San Giovanni and Tuscolano neighbourhoods and Via Cola di Rienzo are currently expected to remain au naturel.

Christmas light in a street in Rome

Many areas of the capital, Rome, will be without lights this year due to lack of funding. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Things will generally be better in Venice and Florence, where local authorities have recently chosen to maintain their usual arrangements, the only exception being the replacement of regular lights with energy-efficient, LED ones. 

So, while the lighting might be a little softer and displays might not be as remarkable as in previous years, both cities should be able to deal with late-December energy bills more comfortably than they would have had to do otherwise.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Italy has avoided a huge hike in gas prices – for now 

Having said that, not all Italian cities have decided to resize their Christmas offerings on the back of eye-watering electricity prices. 

Naples, which has long been known for the extravagance of its Christmas and New Year celebrations, has seemingly chosen to turn a blind eye to the energy crisis and will allocate as much as €1.5 million (that’s €150,000 to each one of the ten local municipalities) to this year’s displays.

Unsurprisingly, the comune’s decision has been drawing widespread criticism, with many local political figures pointing out that part, if not most, of the above-mentioned amount should have been spent elsewhere, perhaps in the form of a one-off ‘Christmas bonus’ for struggling households and businesses.

The available money should have been used to “turn off the crisis and light up people’s hearts”, city councillors Antonio Culiers and Francesco Flores said in a joint statement earlier this month.