French households and businesses are adopting the government’s call for “energy sobriety” with responsible consumption of electricity and gas amid the risk of shortages caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.
Following announcements from President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to save energy and prepare for a complete cutoff of Russian gas supply, families are gearing for emergency measures for the forthcoming winter season.
“I have already ordered extra wood for the fireplace as we will have to use less radiator for heating,” said Lucienne Droz-Vincent, a pensioner from Lyon. With gas prices likely to soar, the retiree is ensuring her monthly budget does not go away due to additional heating costs during the winter months.
In Puy-de-Dome, music teacher Jean-Francois DeGroot has changed the electric lamps of his house to LED lights to save energy and has prepared an energy plan to cope with winter.
“We have three radiators for the entire house and our gas consumption is not huge, yet we end up paying a significant bill of around €70 ($71) per month during the winter season,” he told Anadolu Agency.
He keeps the heating system program in tune with the government directives – heaters are switched off at night and in the daytime are only activated when the temperature drops below 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit).
“We are conscious of the energy situation due to the war and will try to limit our electricity use as much,” he said.
Surge in energy prices
The change in behavior of many French households like this is driven by a surge in energy prices, mainly for gas and fuel, since the start of the year. Gas prices in particular have soared 40.9% between December 2020 and October 2021 even though it is consumed to a lesser extent by households, according to a recent report on economic outlook by France’s statistics agency, the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE).
Small measures like these may not seem to contribute a lot to conserving energy but are effective means of cutting bills up to 20% when the rise in energy prices weighs on household budgets. As per INSEE report, an average French household saw a rise of €14 in the energy bill due to the variation in gas prices between November 2019 and October 2021.
With the outbreak of the war in February, inflation has intensified in France with expenses in energy being the largest contributor to the price surge followed by food prices, another INSEE report stated. The expenses on fuel and housing energy are higher for people like DeGroot living in rural areas as one has to depend on private transport for everyday travel.
To protect the most vulnerable sections against rising energy prices, the government will offer subsidies on fuel and energy prices.
Conserving energy good for pockets, climate
The government has framed energy sobriety measures as good for the pockets and the climate as it aims to put an end to energy waste. In her appeal to commercial businesses, Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said the energy-saving measures will not only help France to get through the winter but also sustainably reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Supermarkets chains such as Carrefour, Leclerc, Lidl, Casino, Auchan, and major consumer brands like Decathlon, Ikea, Boulanger, and others have joined in the Energy Ministry’s decree to reduce the electricity consumption of stores.
Adhering to everyday measures like cutting off illuminated advertising at night, reducing light intensity when there are no customers in stores, keeping doors of stores closed when the air conditioning or heating is on, and lowering the ambient temperatures will help in reducing environmental impact and promote responsible consumption, a statement from the Federation of Commerce and Distribution said.
In addition to commercial outlets, Premier Borne also wants ministers in her Cabinet and the government administration to set an example for the people. Her list of directives too includes simple measures like using a carpool or cycling to work, installing a thermostat in the building and activating air conditioning when the temperatures exceed 26 C (78.8 F), not keeping electrical devices on standby, and turning off the lights and wi-fi when not in use.
France in better situation
Although the government has warned people to prepare for “the worst case scenario” on energy, France is in a better situation than others in Europe.
France’s gas supplies from Russia constitute just about 17% and by mid-June, it completely stopped receiving pipelined natural gas from Moscow. It is replacing Russian gas with supplies from the Gulf, Norway, Algeria, and the US. Last month, Paris struck a strategic energy cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates to secure its fuel and gas supplies. It is also setting up a temporary floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) carrier project in the Le Havre port to increase import capacity. Currently, its gas reserve is at 75% – higher than the 50% recommendation by the EU – and it aims to reach 100% capacity by November.
The parliament has also greenlighted exceptional measures as part of the purchasing power bill to secure energy needs for the next five years. This involves the temporary reopening of the coal-fired power plant in Saint-Avold, in the Moselle department, that was closed down in March 2022 to produce electricity. France will also import up to 70% of its electricity from Germany and Belgium and supply them with excess gas.
Even as the threat of inflation and energy shortage linked to Russia’s war prevails, Pannier-Rauchner assured the parliament that “thanks to European solidarity” France will be ready for this winter.