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ENVIRONMENT

French energy firms urge ‘immediate’ cut in consumption to avoid shortages this winter

France's top three energy providers are imploring the public to reduce their energy consumption this summer in order to save resources and avoid shortages this winter as cuts to Russian gas and oil begin to bite.

French energy firms urge 'immediate' cut in consumption to avoid shortages this winter
Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP

In a rare joint statement, the leaders of the three top French energy companies came together to urge the French public to reduce their energy consumption.

The heads of TotalEnergies, EDF and Engie published an open letter in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday calling on the French to “immediately” reduce their consumption of petrol/gasoline, diesel, oil, electricity and gas in order to help stave off the shortages and soaring prices that could threaten “social cohesion” in France this winter.

The letter begs people to begin “acting this summer,” on cutting energy and fuel usage, adding that this “will allow us to be better prepared to face next winter and in particular to preserve our gas reserves.”

Why is there a risk of shortage this winter?

In light of the war in Ukraine, deliveries of Russian gas to France and other European nations via pipeline have been significantly decreased. Thus France, like the rest of Europe, is attempting to fill its gas reserves in preparation for this upcoming winter. The goal is to have French gas reserves at 100 percent by this fall

As Americans prepare for ‘driving season’ (when many families use their cars to go on vacation) and China begins to relax some of its lockdown measures, the world oil market is looking at high demand that may not be in line with current production capabilities. 

France is a relatively small consumer of Russian gas, but does depend heavily on domestic nuclear plants for energy – production of nuclear energy is however threatened by two things; droughts that mean shortages of water for cooling purposes at plants and maintenance issues that have lead to several plants being temporarily shut down for safety

Concern for adequate energy resources has been on the minds of energy providers for several years, according to the manager of France’s Electricity Transmission Network (RTE).

France has been anticipating that the winters of 2018 to 2024 would be “delicate” as this is a pivotal period for energy transition after several coal-powered plants were closed. France’s oldest nuclear plant, Fessenheim, was also shut down and disconnected from the French grid in 2020.

As of late May, almost half of France’s nuclear reactors were offline due to planned closures, as well as issues related to corrosion.  

What is the real risk of shortage this winter?

“There is no risk of shortage in the short term,” assured France’s Ministry of Environment in May, as there are up to “90 days worth of strategic stocks, as well as commercial stocks, which can both be distributed throughout the country as needed.” 

Experts like Professor Jan Horst Keppler, from Paris-Dauphine University, also do not anticipate a widespread shortage, though, “potential spot shortages are possible.”

Horst Keppler clarified that it is not possible in many cases to substitute one quality of oil for another, which could mean that some refineries may experience “spot shortages.” Therefore, he urged that consumers and providers will have to pay close attention to “the availability of gasoline, diesel and heating oil” even more so “than the availability of crude oil.”

Other European countries, however, are sounding the alarm. Germany, for example, will return to coal-powered energy in order to meet demands this winter. 

What are the energy companies doing to combat risk of shortage?

According to their statement, the heads of France’s top energy providers accept their “responsibility to act on the supply side” by implementing short term plans such as “diversifying gas supplies, proactively filling storage facilities, speeding up liquified natural gas (LNG) imports, and reactivating ‘mothballed’ facilities.”

Additionally, the leaders hope to launch a “major energy efficiency program” and a “national hunt for waste.”

In addition to ensuring adequate energy stocks for the winter, the three leaders also urge the French public to consider reducing consumption as a means for increasing household purchasing power in the fight against rising cost of living, as well as an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They also said that reducing energy “immediately” will show solidarity with other European nations at greater risk, particularly those in Eastern and Central Europe. 

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Firefighters contain French blazes but caution reigns

A huge fire that has devastated swathes of southwestern France appeared contained on Friday as French and foreign firefighters worked flat out, but blistering temperatures made victory uncertain, local authorities said.

Firefighters contain French blazes but caution reigns

The 40-kilometre active fire front in the Gironde and Landes departments around Bordeaux “has not developed, but the weather conditions are pushing us towards extreme vigilance”, deputy prefect Ronan Leaustic told reporters.

Temperatures stood at 39C in the fire zone, just like the day before.

No new evacuations had been ordered on top of the 10,000 people already asked to leave, Leaustic added.

But “temperatures continue to rise and the water table keeps falling”, he said.

EU members including Germany, Poland, Austria and Romania have pledged reinforcements totalling 361 firefighters to join the roughly 1,100 French ones on the ground, along with several water-bombing planes from the European Union fleet.

‘Helping you guys’

Many of the newcomers went into action on Friday.

“It doesn’t matter which country we’re in, we’re firefighters, we are able to help people around the world,” said Cristian Buhaianu, who commands a 77-strong firefighting contingent from Romania.

At the Merignac air base, near the southwestern city of Bordeaux, where Canadair planes and other firefighting aircraft are stationed, a Greek pilot said scenes of devastation like the ones seen in France were commonplace in his home country.

“We see this every year in Greece, and right now we see this in France,” the pilot, 36-year-old Anastasis Sariouglou told AFP. “We have the feeling of helping you guys and it’s nice.”

In the hard-hit area around the village of Hostens, the thick smoke seen on Thursday gave way to blue skies and occasional clouds.

France has been buffeted this summer by a historic drought that has forced water use restrictions nationwide, as well as a series of heatwaves that experts say are being driven by climate change.

The blaze near Bordeaux erupted in July — the driest month seen in France since 1961 — destroying 14,000 hectares and forcing thousands of people to evacuate before it was contained.

But it continued to smoulder in the tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Officials suspect arson may have played a role in the latest flare-up, which has burned 7,400 hectares since Tuesday.

‘Forced to adapt’

Fires in 2022 have ravaged an area three times the annual average over the past 10 years, with blazes also active in the Alpine Jura, Isere and Ardeche regions this week.

The Ardeche fire “is far from under control, because the site is very difficult to reach”, said Jean Jaussaud, a local emergency services commander.

European Copernicus satellite data showed more carbon dioxide greenhouse gas — over one million tonnes — had been released from 2022’s forest fires in France than in any summer since records began in 2003.

On Friday, 19 departments were still at the highest orange heat alert level set by weather authority Meteo-France.

This year’s summer resembled predictions for “an average summer in the middle of this century” under pessimistic climate change scenarios, Meteo-France expert Jean-Michel Soubeyroux told AFP.

Temperatures were “unprecedented”, said wine-grower Maurin Berenger from the southwestern Lot department.

“We’ve been forced to adapt, we work from very early in the morning or even at night. I started at 3:00 am last night, and people with farm hands start at 6:00 to avoid the heat”.

Paris-based pensioner Caroline Dubois, 72, said she was “leaving all the windows in the apartment open so there’s a breeze”.

Weather forecasts suggest France’s third heatwave this year will be broken by storms over the weekend.

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