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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.

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 reportedly approved new limits on the use of air conditioning in public offices and schools this summer as the country aims to wean itself off a heavy reliance on Russian gas imports.

As Italy imposes sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, ministers said this week that Italy is ethically obliged to stop buying Russian gas, which accounts for around 40 percent out of Italy’s 95 percent total gas imports.

The Italian government now says 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 so-called “operation thermostat”.

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.

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.

Ministers are 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.

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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ENERGY

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

Italy's government has repeatedly said it plans to end its dependence on Russia for gas supplies following the invasion of Ukraine. But as the timeline keeps changing, when and how could this happen?

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

Italy is heavily dependent on Russian gas, but has been seeking new sources since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as part of an effort to end this reliance in the coming years.

But it remains unclear whether Italy can really end its dependence on Russia for its gas supply – or when this might be feasible.

READ ALSO: What does Italy’s Algerian gas deal mean for energy supplies?

The government has been seeking new sources since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, including with a recent deal to boost supplies from Algeria.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi said last week the country could be independent of Russian gas by the second half of 2024 – the latest in a series of changing estimates.

“Government estimates indicate that we can make ourselves independent from Russian gas in the second half of 2024,” Draghi told the Senate, while adding that the “first effects” of this plan would be felt by the end of this year.

He said his government was also seeking to boost its production of renewable energy, including by “destroying bureaucratic barriers” to investment, saying it was the “only way” to free Italy from having to import fossil fuels.

Explained: Why and how Italy will pay for Russian gas in rubles

In April, Italy‘s Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani estimated the country would no longer need Russian gas within 18 months, following an earlier prediction that it could take until 2025.

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 in March “must be replaced” – but he didn’t specify with what.

Analysts have said there are “a lot of questions” about how helpful Italy’s gas deal with Algeria will be.

Despite its vast natural gas reserves, Algeria is already exporting at close to full capacity.

Draghi repeated his strong support for EU sanctions on Moscow last week, including a proposed ban on imports of Russian oil, although this is currently being blocked by Hungary.

“We must continue to keep up the pressure on Russia through sanctions, because we must bring Moscow to the negotiating table,” he said.

But for now, Italian energy giant Eni says it plans to pay for Russian gas supplies in rubles, meeting a demand from Vladimir Putin.

It was not immediately clear whether the plan would fall foul of European Union sanctions, although Eni said it was “not incompatible”.

The company said its decision to open the accounts was “taken in compliance with the current international sanctions framework” and that Italian authorities had been informed.

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