According to UN estimates, the world's population could reach 10 billion by 2050 and the number of city dwellers could even double. Given this situation, the issue of housing has taken on key importance. In an urban ecosystem with such a high population density, individual household energy use and energy habits greatly affect air quality and climate health. And their impact is set to increase. As Silvia Brini, an ISPRA researcher and technical and scientific coordinator for the fourth Report on the Quality of the Urban Environment from Sistema Nazionale per la Protezione dell’Ambiente (SNPA), explains “We collected a large amount of data between 2005 and 2015 and, thanks to the greater precision of our detection instruments, we can say that today, home heating systems contribute to air pollution in no less a quantity than vehicle traffic.”
Which is very significant when you consider that particulate matter, commonly referred to as fine dust, consists of the set of liquid and solid substances suspended in the air we breathe and is among the most frequent and dangerous pollutants found in urban areas. The World Health Organization, for example, holds it responsible for 4.2 million deaths every year (2016 data) and for “cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as several types of tumour”.
Brini continues: “Obviously, to calculate the concentration of pollutants in the air we don’t just take into account emissions. Many other factors are included in the detection processes that result in traffic still ranking first as a polluting factor. However, while much research indicates a decrease, albeit slow, in motor vehicle pollution, SNPA’s report highlights that contamination caused by domestic heating systems in the 120 most populous cities in Italy is increasing. In 88 of the urban centres we analysed, we found that domestic heating is responsible for over 50% of fine dust emissions. That is why we are constantly subject to infringement procedures in relation to their level, at an average rate that is higher than the maximum tolerated by the European Commission.” What is the cause of this trend? On one hand, over time the use of certain fuels has been incentivised and they have had a greater impact than the old ones; this concerns the latest generation of fireplaces and stoves. On the other, the question of household energy efficiency has not been structurally addressed.