Introduction to Ostiense, Italy

Jan 20, 2023 | Rome (Porto Fluviale)

Ostiense is the historic “energy neighbourhood” of Rome, characterized by many energy infrastructures today as part of an urban heritage. Among ancient power plants, old gasometers, and power stations, there is an urban district characterized by a complex socio-spatial dimension, opportunity and at the same time challenge for the energy transition.

Interpreting the socio-environmental perspective of energy

The case study well represents the Mediterranean challenge of energy transition: a historical and dense building stock poorly efficient; a still predominant car-oriented mobility; and a complex urban governance require a specific interpretation of the energy urban models, not just technical but especially social.

In the neighbourhood the largest part of the buildings date before any energy efficiency laws. Therefore, retrofitting operations are urgent, but they are blocked by Heritage constraints, excessive fragmentation of properties and low investment capacity of dwellers (elderly, students, squatters). Nevertheless, in the neighborhood there is a strong sense of community, supported by many associations and informal groups’ activities, and the presence of important entities such as the university that could empower a strong energy social project.

Ostiense is also a paradigmatic case study to reflect on the relation between climate and energy consumption system. The neighbourhood is one of the hottest parts of Rome, where the effect of the Urban Heat Islands (UHI) brings an increase in average temperatures of even more than 3° C. This aspect weighs heavily on the local energy balance; in fact, during summertime there are peaks of energy consumption of over 20 percent especially for the use of air conditioners. The cost of this rise is often unaffordable for groups of inhabitants in energy poverty, generating so profound spatial injustices. The presence of large asphalted open spaces, as well as sealed surfaces, and the scarcity of vegetation and shading systems are responsible for the intensity of this climatic phenomenon. Here, for a just and sustainable transition, the challenge is transforming the open spaces to reduce the cooling demand by alleviating the energy balance of the neighbourhood.

The historic Montemartini thermoelectric power plant, now an archaeological museum, can still be visited in the district, which once produced a large amount of energy in a single space. Today, following the challenge of diversified, distributed and decentralized energy production, the presence of renewable sources and diffuse spaces is essential. The challenge in Ostiense alternates the difficult integration of a sprawled production system in a dense fabric with little free space and the uncertain transformation of large former industrial areas. However, high solar radiation indices and the possibility of intercepting urban waste streams offer good potential for photovoltaic or bioenergy production.

Challenges and Opportunities. The Ostiense case study represents a paradigmatic example of southern European urban context in transformation. The many technical and urban governance difficulties are balanced by the opportunities provided by the variety of social initiatives and the power of the inhabiting community, as well as the many opportunities to design the transformation of built space, which today is achieving priority in local urban agenda.

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