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An insider's view of Tuscany

Raymond Lamothe Facebook


Homepage > Blog > Blog THE HIGH COSTS OF ENERGY

Why we don't have air-conditioning in our houses.

I had an interesting exchange of messages with a cousin of mine who lives in upstate New York and with a couple of American clients regarding energy and fuel-related issues and comparisons between costs in the United States and here in Europe. Diesel fuel currently runs 1,34 Euros per liter in Italy against the $2.53 a gallon in the US (this means we are currently paying $6.50 a gallon).

A lot of our guests are taken aback by the high costs we have for fuels in Europe. This basically is about the same in most of the European countries because we do not have any significant crude oil production (and the British offshore drilling doesn’t even cover their own consumption needs).

This is why we generally have smaller cars in Europe and have been doing so much research in reducing car fuel consumption – but the initial direction was aimed at reducing car weights, resulting in faster, lighter cars. Now real research is underway to find alternatives in better propane and methane gas cars, hydrogen cars, and mixed fuel cell cars combining gasoline engines and batteries.

The main problem is setting up refueling distribution pumps for the alternative fuel sources. And the European governments rely heavily on the high tax revenues they get from the petrol pumps.

Another hard hit commodity in most of Europe is electricity. Some countries have nuclear plants, like France, so their own internal production cuts down their costs, but other countries, like Italy, actually voted in a referendum nearly 20 years ago not to have any nuclear plants on Italian soil. The result is that we import more than half of our electricity from the nuclear plants of our neighbors. The current government has decided to go against popular feeling and is planning the construction of several nuclear plants in the coming decade.

These high costs are one of the reasons that we generally do not use air conditioning over here. You will find that it is not in the European culture. You see, we build our houses primarily out of stone and bricks with really thick walls - At Casamonti, where I live, we have walls that are almost 3 feet thick and even more in some places. Stone is a bad heat conductor, so the outside of our houses, like you find in Spain and in the Haciendas in Mexico, heat up on the outside, but with all window shutters closed and only the inside windows open, we create a breeze inside the houses that keeps them cool. We also have a pretty strong degree of heat excursion during the day.

You will find that only the recently built or restored houses have air conditioning systems. To tear up a stone villa to put in air conditioning systems not only costs a small fortune, but it has to be done following a series of guidelines laid down by the local authorities and a project needs to be drawn up and approved by the town building authorities. This is quite a complicated operation.

Another pretty high expense we have is gas for cooking and heating. Generally, while up till 10 years ago many houses (even inside the cities) ran on diesel fuel, today the cities all have methane gas lines, and the farmhouses and villas in the countryside usually have large underground propane gas tanks.

Most of our gas comes in from Libya across the Mediterranean undersea pipeline and from Russia, through the pipeline that runs through the Ukraine. We get our petroleum almost exclusively from the Arab countries. Italy has a relatively modest electric production from hydroelectric dams, some coal-burning electric plants, some geothermic tapping, and a lot of development is going on in the eolic system. A campaign is being run to convince people to put in photovoltaic systems on the roofs of their houses, but the efficiency still leaves a lot of doubt and, quite frankly, Italians prefer their cotto tiled roofs to sheets of shimmering silicon.

So that leaves us where we started: high heating and electric bills, expensive gasoline and diesel car fuels, and a lot of fans and ceiling ventilators, but not much air-conditioning.


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