Italy limits air conditioning in public buildings to save energy

The consequences of the war in Ukraine will be felt this summer in Italian schools and public offices. In order to depend less on Russian gas, the Government of Mario Draghi has imposed energy austerity and has decided that from May 1 the temperature of the air conditioning in the buildings of the ministries, local entities and the rest of public places will not be able to be less than 27 degrees, with a margin of two degrees for the hottest days. In other words, no matter how hot the Italian heat is, it will not be possible to work at a temperature lower than 25 degrees.

“What do we prefer: peace or having the air conditioning on?” asked the prime minister during a press conference in which he defended imposing a ceiling on the price of gas to contain the increase in costs in energy bills, and also he was in favor of abiding by an embargo on Russian gas if the EU demanded it.

Mario Draghi’s question: “What do we prefer: peace or having the air conditioning on?”

The plan, dubbed Operation Thermostat, is part of a bill that has already been definitively approved by the Chamber of Deputies and will be in force until March 31 of next year. In winter there will also be limitations: the temperature must not exceed 19 degrees Celsius, with permission to increase it by no more than 2 degrees to 21.

With this measure, the Executive intends to save between 2,000 and 4,000 million cubic meters of gas. Last year Italy imported some 30 billion cubic meters from Russia, which represents 40% of the country’s consumption. It is estimated that one degree less temperature saves between 5% and 10% of total consumption. About 57% of the energy costs of Italian public buildings come from temperature control.

For now, hospitals will be exempt from these new regulations, but they could end up being extended to family homes and public lighting, limiting the number of streetlights lit on the streets or the hours of light bulbs in the common areas of buildings. The controls will be carried out by inspectors from the Ministry of Labor, and fines of between 500 and 3,000 euros may be applied to those who do not abide by the restrictions.

The head of Public Administration, Renato Brunetta, has blessed the temperature limits in public offices as a “positive sign”. “It reminds me of my mother, who told me that when she left a room, turn off the light. I intend to do much more, putting solar panels on the roof of a million public buildings, especially schools. It would not solve the dependency on Russian gas, but it would have enormous educational value,” he said in a recent interview.

Italy has reservations until October, but the Executive does not want to take any risk. The government of the former president of the European Central Bank is moving quickly to diversify its energy sources in the hands of Eni, the Italian state-owned energy giant. Italy has signed major new deals in Africa to long-term substitute the gas it buys from Moscow. Initially they had calculated emancipating themselves from Russian gas in two or three years, but given the speed of these new contracts they believe they could achieve it much sooner, in eighteen months.

Before Easter, Draghi traveled to Algeria to secure an additional 9,000 cubic meters per year between 2023 and 2024, by which time his imports will amount to 30,000 million. Eni has signed another agreement with Egypt to send up to 3 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Italy. Last week, two ministers, the Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, and the Ecological Transition Minister, Roberto Cingolani, traveled to Angola and the Republic of the Congo to increase energy items on behalf of Draghi, who was infected with coronavirus.

“We do not want to depend on Russian gas, because economic dependence should not become political subordination,” the premier told Corriere della Sera , in his first interview with an Italian newspaper since he was appointed to the post. “In this case, the sacrifice is limited to a few degrees. Peace is the most important value –he stressed–, regardless of the sacrifice, but in this case the sacrifice is small”.