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ENERGY

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
Agriculture, energy and household water supplies have been hit as Italy’s Po River suffers the worst drought in 70 years. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

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.

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HEATWAVE

Will summer 2022 be Italy’s hottest ever?

As the country prepares for yet another heatwave, we look into whether summer 2022 might go down as the hottest summer in Italian history.

Will summer 2022 be Italy's hottest ever?

August is here and, alas, the heat is back on. 

After enduring months of exceptionally hot weather, Italy’s residents are bracing for yet another heatwave as meteorologists say temperatures this month might be 10 degrees higher than seasonal averages.

READ ALSO: Heatwave: What temperatures can we expect in Italy in August?

At this point many might be wondering whether the summer we’re living through (or surviving, you decide) might be one of, if not the hottest in Italian history. 

The short answer is: it might be but it’s far too soon to tell since, from a meteorological standpoint, summers consist of June, July and August and the latter month has only just started. 

But we can already start drawing a comparison between the current summer and the hottest summer in Italian history, the sweltering estate 2003.

For those who might not have been around then, summer 2003 brought four months of far-above-average temperatures without so much as a let-up to ‘break’ the heat. As a result, summer 2003 literally smashed each and every one of the previous records and earned the title of hottest Italian summer ever.

Tourists cooling off in Rome, Italy

Italy’s mean temperature in August is expected to sway between 2 and 3°C above season average. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

So far summer 2022 appears on track to give its infamous 2003 counterpart a run for its money.

Granted, in June 2022, the national mean temperature was 2.88​​°C above average, whereas the same value was 3.44°C above average in June 2003. 

But, while the country’s mean temperature was 1.59°C above average in July 2003, July 2022 registered an impressive +2.26°C in the same category.

So, all in all, it seems like the contest is bound to go right down to the wire, with temperatures in August set to determine whether summer 2022 will eventually be crowned as the hottest summer ever. 

Michele Brunetti, Chief Researcher at the Italian Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (ISAC), tells The Local: “August 2003 registered a significant anomaly – the national mean temperature was 2.71°C above average. We’ll have to wait and see whether this month’s temperatures will exceed those recorded in August.

“It would surely be quite extraordinary [if they did].”

Difficult as it may be, forecasts project that the country’s mean temperature will sway between 2 and 3°C above average in the coming weeks, so there might be just enough margin for summer 2022 to become the hottest ever (not that we hope it does, obviously).

The dried-up banks of the Po river in Italy

Thus far, 2022 has been the driest year in Italian history. Above are the dried-up banks of Italy’s longest river, the Po. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

Meanwhile, 2022 may also be able to break another undesirable record and go down in history as the driest year ever – or, at least, since 1800, when records started.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Po Valley rations water amid worst drought in 70 years

So far this year, up until the end of July, rainfall across the country has been below average by as much as 46 percent (-52 percent in the north and -42 percent in the centre and south), making the first seven months of 2022 the driest in Italian history.

The amount of rainfall in the coming months will determine whether 2022 as a whole will beat out the current record holder, 2017 – something Brunetti says is likely to happen.

It would be no surprise given that the country is currently experiencing its worst drought in 70 years.

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