Italy puts 25C limit on air conditioning as Ukraine crisis forces energy rationing | Italy

Schools and other public buildings in Italy will be forbidden from setting their air conditioning to any setting lower than 25C from next month, under a scheme intended to help the country dodge an energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

The energy rationing initiative, called “operation thermostat”, comes as Italy on Wednesday penned a deal with Angola to ramp up gas supplies from the southern African country.

A declaration of intent was signed to develop “new” natural gas ventures and to increase exports to Italy, a statement from the Italian foreign minister announced.

Ministers also traveled to central Africa on Wednesday in search of alternative gas suppliers to Russia, from where Italy imports about 45% of its natural gas.

A debate over energy squandered through air conditioning arose after the prime minister, Mario Draghi, ironically used air conditioning as an example of something Italians might have to sacrifice in return for peace in Ukraine.

“Do we want to have peace or do we want to have the air conditioning on?” he said earlier this month, after pledging that Italy would comply if the EU decided to impose an embargo on Russian gas.

The rules will begin on 1 May and be in place until 31 March next year, with heating in public buildings during winter not permitted to exceed 19C. It is not yet clear how the measure will be policed, but inspectors from the ministry of labor could undertake controls, with those fluting the limits fined between €500 and €3,000, Il Messaggero reported. The measure does not apply to hospitals but may eventually be extended to private homes.

Renato Brunetta, the minister for public administration, said the initiative, introduced by the Five Star Movement, was a “positive” sign and would save 2-4bn cubic meters of gas a year. About 57% of the energy costs of a public office building comes from temperature control.

Angela Masi, a politician with the Five Star Movement, said: “It’s correct that the public administration is setting a good example, cutting waste and raising awareness among citizens about rationalising consumption. It’s a simple way to contribute and reduce dependency on gas.”

After traveling to Algeria last week to strike a gas deal, Draghi was forced to cancel trips to Angola and the Republic of the Congo after testing positive for Covid-19. He is instead sending his foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, and Roberto Cingolani, the minister of ecological transition.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera on Sunday, Draghi said: “We do not want to depend on Russian gas any longer, because economic dependence must not become political subjection. Diversification is possible and can be implemented in a relatively short amount of time – quicker than we imagined just a month ago.”

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