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ENERGY

What are the limits on air conditioner use in Italy?

As Spain and Germany announce new energy-saving measures, what is Italy doing to rein in its fuel consumption?

What measures has Italy introduced to reduce fuel consumption?
What measures has Italy introduced to reduce fuel consumption? Photo by Michu Đăng Quang on Unsplash

As much of mainland Europe continues to be pummelled by extreme heat and buffeted by a volatile energy market in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, several European countries have recently taken steps to reduce their use of fossil fuels.

At the end of July, EU member states made a voluntary agreement to reduce their gas consumption by 15 percent this winter, and a number have announced new measures aimed at meeting this target.

Spain’s government on Monday approved an ‘energy saving plan’ that sets temperature limits of 27C in the summer and 19C in the winter for AC units in public buildings, shops, cultural centres such as theatres and cinemas, and transport hubs such as train stations and airports. 

These spaces must also install automatically closing doors by September 30th, and shop window lights must be turned off by 10pm.

In July Germany’s economy and climate minister laid out plans for an ‘energy security package’ that would, among other things, ban owners of private pools from heating them with gas over the winter, and suspend clauses in tenancy agreements that require renters to keep their homes above a minimum temperature.

And France’s government is working on an energy saving plan that will involve public administration, businesses and individuals, with the aim of cutting the country’s energy use by 10 percent over the next two years.

READ ALSO: Air-con, ties and lights: How Europe plans to save energy and get through winter without blackouts

By comparison, Italy’s efforts to conserve energy to date have been limited in scope (the CEO of the Italgas company told Reuters in July that Italy would not need to cut its consumption by 15 percent, as it had sufficient stocks to get it through the winter).

On May 1st, a law came into force regulating the temperature on AC units and radiators in public buildings until May 31st, 2023.

The temperature in these spaces 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 in the summer is actually 25C, and the highest in winter is 21C.

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

Fines for non-compliance with the rules range from €500 to €3,000, although it’s still unclear how checks or enforcement will be carried out.

READ ALSO: Milan blackouts blamed on air conditioning as heatwave intensifies

Italy hopes that these steps will result in savings of between 2 and 4 billion cubic meters of gas, allowing its to achieve its stated aim of weaning the country off Russian gas by the end of 2023.

According to recent reports, the government has discussed further measures to encourage the general public to cut their energy consumption, including restricting personal AC use and further limiting the use of heating in private homes this winter – though no such plans have yet been formally announced.

In fact, Italy will continue to offer tax discounts of between 50 and 65 percent on AC units until the end of this year as part of its 2022 building renovations bonus scheme – though the units must meet certain minimum energy efficiency standards.

Other energy-saving plans reportedly drawn up by the government – albeit for use in a worst case scenario – include the enforced early closure of shops, public offices, restaurants and bars.

A reduction in municipal electricity consumption has also been discussed, which could mean fewer street lamps and delaying switching on the lights in apartment blocks.

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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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