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ENERGY

Cold water, 19C heating and cash bonuses: How France will cut energy use this winter

Lowered heating, speed limits, cash bonuses and lighting cuts - the French government has unveiled its 'energy sobriety' plan to cut France's energy use by 10 percent and avoid blackouts this winter.

Cold water, 19C heating and cash bonuses: How France will cut energy use this winter
Heating will be limited to 19C in public buildings. Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne unveiled the long-awaited plan on Thursday, outlining the cuts that will allow France to make it through the winter without Russian gas.

The plan for sobriété enérgetique (energy sobriety) will also become part of France’s longer-term commitment to reducing its energy use by 30 percent by 2030, in order to combat climate change.

The plan is divided into three sections – measures for government offices and public buildings which are compulsory, measures for businesses which are voluntary but which businesses are expected to sign up to on a sector basis and measures that households and private individuals can take, which are entirely voluntary.

Here are the main measures; 

Government

Government officials and politicians are expected to “be exemplary”, which is why you’re likely to see a lot more politicians modelling knitwear this winter, to show how they have turned down their office heating.

Among the measures for government offices are;

Heating – government offices will not be heated to above 19C, lowered to 18C on days when the EcoWatt app (which shows the risk of energy shortages) is on a ‘red’ day – find out how EcoWatt works HERE. The heating will be turned down at night.

Dress code – dress codes are relaxed for public sector employees to allow them to dress warmly for work. 

Remote working – working from home – télétravail – became a fixture during the pandemic and looks like it might be coming back if you work for the government. Government departments will encourage home-working with an increase in the remote-working allowance for public servants. 

Travel – government agents who need to travel for work should use public transport rather than the car. If this is not possible, they should not exceed 110km/h when driving on the autoroute, in order to save around 20 percent of fuel (emergency workers are exempt from this requirement). These tactics are encouraged – but not compulsory – for private employees and individuals. 

Turn off hot water – office managers are asked to turn off hot water supplies, except when it is essential, such as for showers. Employees will therefore need to wash their hands in cold water, and boil a kettle if they want a tea or coffee. 

Building fund – funds will be available to make buildings more energy efficient.

Public spaces

Local authorities are also included in the plan, for both their own offices and for the public buildings that they manage, such as swimming pools and leisure centres. Buildings such as hospitals, nursing homes or anywhere that houses vulnerable people are exempt from these measures. 

Pools and gyms – gyms must lower their standard temperatures by 2C, while the water in swimming pools will be 1C colder. 

Lighting – lighting including street lights, lighting of public spaces and illuminating buildings should be reduced by turning off lights earlier, reducing light intensity and switching to LED lights. Many local authorities had already announced cuts to lighting on public buildings, including the city of Paris where the lights on the Eiffel Tower will be turned off one hour earlier.

Sports stadiums – sports clubs – both professional and amateur – are asked to reduce the time that pitches are floodlit and stadiums lit up before and after matches by 50 percent for daytime matches and 30 percent for evening games. 

Ski resorts – ski resorts will slow the speed of chair lifts in order to save energy but the lifts themselves as well as other ski infrastructure will still be running.

Offices – local and national government are asked to save office heating by grouping as many offices as possible into a single building. 

Businesses

Businesses are asked to sign up to energy commitments on a voluntary basis. The government is creating a brand called Les entreprises s’engagent (Companies that are committed) that companies who sign up to and implement measures will be awarded. Many businesses have already begun to make some of the outlined changes. 

Lower office heating – Offices should not be heated to more than 19C and the temperature should be dropped to 16C at night. If the office is to be closed for three days or more, heating should be lowered to 8C while staff are away. Companies are also asked to move by up to 15 days the switch-on and switch-off dates in autumn and spring for heating, although this will depend on the weather. 

Hotels, bars and restaurants – these and other businesses that welcome the public will also be asked to sign up for the 19C maximum for heating, while retail stores will be expected to go for a maximum of 17C.

Lighting – companies should turn off interior lighting as soon as an office, store or other workplace is closed. Exterior lighting should be reduced, including for advertising, and should be turned off by 1am at the latest. 

Travel – businesses should reduce unnecessary travel by employees and use public transport wherever possible for employees who do have to travel.

Households

These measures are advisory only, but will be accompanied by a publicity campaign – named Chaque geste compte (every action counts) encouraging individuals to do their bit and help to reduce their energy use.

Temperature – lowering the temperature in your home by just 1C can save around seven percent of your energy use. It is recommended to have the living spaces no warmer than 19C, with bedrooms at 17C. This is voluntary, and vulnerable people such as the elderly or those with a disability may need to have the heating at a higher setting.

Appliances – a range of energy-saving tips are suggested, from turning off lights in rooms that are not used to not leaving appliances on standby and unplugging appliances if you are going away. 

Carpooling – in order to encourage car-sharing, there will be bonuses for people who sign up to car-share schemes. 

Cash bonuses – households that manage to reduce their consumption this winter will be in line for a bonus sobriété (sobriety bonus) from their gas or electricity company. Several companies have already announced bonuses of up to €120 for households that make significant cuts.

Heat pumps – homeowners will be able to get grants of up to €9,000 to switch a gas boiler to a heat pump, through the existing Ma PrimeRenov scheme.

Energy forecast – TV channels will start to broadcast the ‘energy forecast’ in a similar way to the weather forecast, showing how high the risk of energy shortages are in the days ahead. 

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POLITICS

French minister: US green plan should be ‘wake-up call’ for EU industry

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Friday said Washington's $430 billion plan to spur climate-friendly technologies in the United States must be seen as a wake-up call for Europe.

French minister: US green plan should be 'wake-up call' for EU industry

The EU “must be able to sweep in front of our own door” before worrying about the effects of the US climate plan on European industry, Le Maire told AFP in Washington, where he was part of French President Emmanuel Macron’s US state visit.

Even though the EU has already “changed its approach” on promoting green industry, the US climate plan must be seen as a “wake-up call” in the European Union, he added.

Le Maire’s comments came as EU countries have poured criticism on Washington’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), seeing it as anti-competitive and a threat to European jobs, especially in the energy and auto sectors.

Subsidies for green energy

The act, designed to accelerate the US transition to a low-carbon economy, contains around $370 billion in subsidies for green energy as well as tax cuts for US-made electric cars and batteries.

Macron on Wednesday slammed the plan’s “Made in USA” provisions as “super aggressive” for European businesses.

But at a joint press conference with Macron, Biden said that he and the French leader had agreed to “discuss practical steps to coordinate and align our approaches”, though he said he would not apologize for the US plan.

Biden added the IRA was never intended to disadvantage any US allies.

Threats of retaliatory measures

Last month, EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton threatened to appeal to the World Trade Organization and consider “retaliatory measures” if the United States did not reverse its subsidies.

Le Maire also criticized the EU’s own climate spending plans, arguing that they were too cumbersome and loaded with red tape.

“If the ambition is the same” as the Europeans, the United States relies on methods that “are simpler and faster”, he said.

“They put immediate and massive tax credits where we provide state aid (to specific projects) which sometimes take two years to be adopted and are too complex to implement,” said Le Maire.

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