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ENERGY

Milan blackouts blamed on air conditioning as heatwave intensifies

A series of blackouts has left parts of Italy's economic capital in the dark for hours at a time in recent days, after power usage in the city soared amid temperatures far beyond seasonal averages.

Milan blackouts blamed on air conditioning as heatwave intensifies
The demand for electricity is coonstant rising in densely-populated Milan, says the head of the city's energy network. File photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

As northern Italy swelters in temperatures of up to 36C with high humidity, a massive increase in electricity usage for cooling day and night has reportedly pushed the city’s electricity grid beyond its limits.

Milan’s world-famous Duomo on Thursday was forced to cancel the evening opening of its terraces due to the blackouts, shops were left without light or air conditioning, and disruption continued over the past few days in “all four corners of the city” according to local news outlet MilanoToday.

Electricity supplies continued to cut out on Tuesday for “half an hour here, an hour there, two, three, or even 14 hours,” MilanoToday reported 

“Long and shorter blackouts occurred in several areas of the city. From Viale Fulvio Testi to Piazzale Macciachini, Viale Sarca and Viale Jenner, many buildings were left in the dark due to the breakdowns,” the report read.

It was impossible to see how bad the situation was overall as there was no list of affected areas or overview available from the city’s electricity provider Unareti, reports noted.

HEATWAVE: 16 Italian cities on alert with peaks of 43C

Unareti told the city’s local edition of newspaper Corriere della Sera the issues were being “resolved in the vast majority of cases in a few minutes”.

Energy consumption in the city has reportedly increased by ten percent as temperatures rose over the last week and by 35 percent in a month amid a series of increasingly intense early summer heatwaves.

Milan is already among the European cities with the highest electrical power requirements per square kilometre, equal to five times that of Rome.

The city needs an ever-higher power supply due to demand for electric appliances, as well as electric vehicles, Unareti’s managing director Francesco Gerli told Corriere della Sera.

He said the “increasing use of air conditioners” as well as the move away from gas appliances is partly driving the surge in demand in central Milan, which covers “a relatively small area, completely urbanized, quite vertical”.

“There are now entire neighbourhoods where the power lines are electricity: the gas network is not even considered,” he said, pointing out that residents are buying electric “induction hobs instead of gas cookers, heat pumps instead of boilers, electric cars”.

With demand for electric appliances rising and 30 percent of vehicles in Milan expected to be electric by 2030, Unereti is working on increasing network capacity, he said.

Milan residents affected by electricity blackouts can check the situation in their area via the Unereti website.

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ENERGY

Which households in Italy will benefit from falling gas prices?

Gas prices are returning to lower levels but which Italian households will see the benefits on their utility bill? Here’s what you need to know.

Which households in Italy will benefit from falling gas prices?

Italy’s energy regulator Arera announced on Thursday that gas bills had dropped by an average 34 percent in January, marking a change in trend after increases recorded in December and November.

Arera said the fall in prices was largely driven by lower wholesale gas prices, but was also aided by “lower supply costs” and the government’s three-month suspension of gas-related standing charges.

But not everyone in the country will feel the effects of the price change.

The decrease reported by Arera will benefit customers on a ‘protected’ or maggior tutela contract, where rates are directly determined by Arera as opposed to private suppliers – this applies to approximately 41.5 percent of Italian households.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: When can you turn your heating on in Italy this winter?

For customers with private suppliers, who are instead on mercato libero (free market) contracts, any change in price will depend on the contract itself, particularly on whether it’s based on a fixed or variable rate.

Gas prices within the mercato libero (or ‘free market’) are determined by private companies, so variations in Arera’s tariffs do not directly affect these contracts.

Gas stove

Variations in Arera’s gas tariffs do not directly affect free market clients. Photo by Ida Marie ODGAARD / Ritzau SCANPIX / AFP

Some ‘hybrid’ contracts from private suppliers index their gas prices to Arera’s rates, and customers with this type of contract are likely to see a reduction in fees.

That said, the European market registered comparatively low gas prices in January – gas cost an average of 0.74 euros per cubic metre last month, down from the average 1.25 recorded in December. This may very well result in lower gas bills for free market customers in Italy.

But overall, despite January’s decrease, gas tariffs remain much higher than they were before the start of the energy crisis.

READ ALSO: Heating homes: What are Italy’s rules on using fires and wood-burners?

The average Italian household on a contratto tutelato will still spend 1,769 euros on gas bills alone in the next 12 months (from February 2022 to January 2023) – a whopping 36-percent increase against the same period of time last year.

National consumer group UNC warned against the optimism expressed by several government figures on Thursday, saying while “families may now take a breather”, bills are still “unsustainable for too many Italians”. 

UNC also urged the government to extend the three-month suspension of standing charges for another three months when it expires at the end of March.

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