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ENERGY

What you need to know about planned power cuts in France this winter

The French government continues to insist that power cuts are very unlikely this winter. Nevertheless, there is an emergency plan in place, so here's what it says about power cuts, from length and frequency to warning times.

What you need to know about planned power cuts in France this winter
Electric pylons near an electric power station in the countryside of Saint-Laurent-de-Terregatte, western France (Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP)

Power outages in France during the winter of 2022-2023 are still unlikely, and President Emmanuel Macron has urged people “not to panic.” However, they are still a “real possibility” and if you would like to be prepared for potential power cuts, here is what you should know:

When and how will I know if there’s going to be a power outage?

You can continue scanning the situation using the website and application Ecowatt.

READ MORE: ‘Ecowatt’: How to use France’s new energy forecasting website and app

You will be able to see an ‘energy forecast’ for the following three days – which will put your local area into the category of Green (no strains in the grid), Orange (the grid is strained, consider decreasing energy consumption), or Red (the grid is very strained, power cuts will be inevitable without a decrease in consumption).

If EcoWatt goes red, the first step will be asking businesses to make voluntary decreases, so for example factories could go onto a three-day week.

If this still doesn’t work, then targeted power cuts may be necessary – but these will be limited in time and area and planned in advance.

The government says that power cuts will last for no longer than two hours and will be done on a commune basis – so there will never be a situation where a whole département will be blacked out, far less the entire country.

So how do I know if my area will be affected?

If Ecowatt is red, keep checking it – at 3pm each day it will be updated with any areas that face power cuts the following day.

At 3pm you will be able to see whether your département will be impacted and at 5pm you will be able to check your individual address to see if you are in a ‘load shedding’ zone (délestage in French) – the technical term for a planned outage.

You can set up alerts by SMS and email on both the application and website.

And of course there will be extensive media coverage (including on The Local) of planned cuts. 

How long would the rolling blackout last?

French government authorities have specified that power outages would not occur for more than two hours at a time.

They would occur either in the morning (between the hours of 8am and 1pm) or in the evening between the hours of 6pm and 8pm and would not affect crucial buildings such as hospitals. 

If you are impacted by a power outage on one day, you can rest assured you will not be in a “load shedding area” the following day, power bosses will vary the areas for targeted cuts and no area will have two consecutive days of cuts.

What are the things that might be impacted in the event of a power cut?

There are several every-day items that could be shut off during a power outage that you might need to be aware of; 

READ MORE: OPINION: France faces the real possibility of power cuts this winter and it can’t blame Putin

ATMs and Contactless Payment – If you are in an area that will be impacted by power outages, consider taking out cash the day before. During the power outage, you may not be able to access an ATM or use a credit/ debit card to pay, depending on whether the card reader is fully charged. 

Elevators and digicodes – if you live in an apartment block then both your lift and the electronic door codes will not work. Your building might block access to elevators during the rolling blackout. If you know you will be in an area where power is cut, you might want to consider postponing your heavy shopping trip or furniture delivery to the following day.

Digicodes and access badges also will not work without electricity. However, that does not mean you will be locked out or trapped inside, as the electricity is only used to keep the door locked. 

Shops closed – While supermarkets with generators will be able to remain open, you can expect some smaller shops to be closed during power outages.

Public transport – This will depend on where you live in France, though you can expect some services to be interrupted. Local authorities have been tasked with coming up with their own response plans in the event of power cuts. The French government has asked local authorities to err on the side of caution, in order to avoid the possibility of passengers finding themselves stranded in the middle of a track. As for the Paris Metro system, this will not be affected by power outages. Government spokesperson Olivier Véran told BFMTV on Friday that it runs on “its own electricity network.” You can expect more detailed information in the coming weeks.

Schools – While this has not yet been confirmed, the French government is reportedly working alongside the Ministry of Education to develop plans to close schools in the mornings if the area is to be impacted by rolling blackouts. This would be to protect students and teachers from having to be in the building without access to heating, alarm systems or lighting. Schools would be open again in the afternoons, as power cuts are not set to take place between 1pm and 6pm. 

Phone and internet service – During a power cut, there could be interruptions in telecommunications (both for mobile and landline devices). If you have an emergency, you should still dial 112. As this phone number is accessible regardless of the telephone operating company or line, there is still a chance it will be covered by at least one operator in the area. Call centres for the fire department and the police will continue to function. 

Traffic lights – Like other illuminated traffic signs, these are powered by electricity. It is therefore possible that they will be out of service during power cuts, so consider avoiding driving during a power outage.

Charging devices – If you learn that your area will be impacted by a power outage, consider charging any devices you might need during the day the night before. Keep in mind though that the power cut will only last two hours.

Hot water – If your water is heated electrically, it likely will not be available during a power outage. It would therefore be advised to plan around the two hour power cut for your hot water needs.

Refrigerators and freezers – There is no need to panic here – the power would only be off for two hours, so your food ought to remain protected, as refrigerators can keep cold up to four to six hours after the power shuts off. As for freezers, they can keep their temperature for 24 to 48 hours.

And what won’t be affected?

Priority sites such as hospitals, prisons, police stations, fire stations, critical factories and other emergency services will not experience power cuts.

If your power line also services a priority site, then you will be spared from blackouts. For this reason, people living in urban areas are less likely to be impacted by power cuts than people living in rural areas. As for Paris specifically, the city is so dense and is connected to so many priority sites that only about 20 percent of the Parisian territory could be impacted by power cuts. 

Current estimates show that about 60 percent of the French population could be impacted by power cuts – the remaining 40 percent are either connected to a priority line or are part of the 3,800 “high-risk patients” who are dependent on home medical equipment.

Member comments

  1. be prudent as they can be a power surge when electric power returns. This can damage the likes of live boxes, fixed phones, fridges and anything connected to the power sockets. The answer is to buy very effective ” multiprise parafoudre et surtension” which will protect most appliances

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For members

READER QUESTION

Reader question: How many public holidays does France have?

You would think this would be a simple question - but in fact the answer depends on the year, the region and your job. We explain.

Reader question: How many public holidays does France have?

Question: How many public holidays does France have per year and how does this compare to other countries?

The most commonly-given answer to this question is that France has 11 public holidays per year, ranging from the religious (Ascension and Assumption) to the secular (May Day and commemorations for World War I and II).

There are, however, some caveats to that.

The first is regional – if you live in the three départements that make up the historic region of Alsace-Lorraine you get 13 – the extra ones being St Stephen’s Day (December 26th) and Good Friday (the Friday before Easter).

The reason for this is that the region had been part of Germany and became French again after the end of World War I – but the inhabitants had become used to having the extra holidays when they were part of Germany and showed no interest in giving them up. A compromise was reached.

The second is the year – some holidays (like Easter) change date each year, but others (such as November 11th which marks the end of World War I) stay on the same date each year, and sometimes that date will fall on a weekend.

Some countries change the day of holidays – for example in the UK the Remembrance Day holiday is always on the Monday closest to November 11th – but in France holidays happen when they fall. So if it falls on a weekend the holiday is ‘lost’ in terms of time off – it’s still a public holiday, but workers don’t get any extra days off. 

For this reason there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ holiday years in France – 2023 is a very good year. It also gives rise to the practice of ‘faire le pont‘ – where workers use a single day of their annual leave allowance to ‘bridge’ a holiday – for example if Tuesday is a public holiday they take Monday as a day’s holiday and create a nice four-day weekend.

And finally, there’s Pentecost.

The Christian festival has a curious history in France, in that it used to be a public holiday and then the government scrapped it and introduced instead ‘solidarity day’, in which workers donated a day’s salary to charity.

Pentecost: The ‘holiday’ where some people work for free

They they ditched this idea, but some companies kept it – the upshot is that on Pentecost some workers get the day off, some work as normal and some work as normal but that day’s pay goes to charity. 

And how does France compare to the rest of Europe?

It’s mid-table – French workers do better than those in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the UK but worse than those in Spain or Italy. For Germany and Switzerland it depends which region/canton you are in as there are lots of local holidays.

Here’s those French holidays in full, with the days they fall in 2023. French rail services typically offer sales in advance of holiday periods, as well – you can learn more HERE

  • Sunday, January 1st – New Year’s Day
  • Monday, April 10th – Easter Monday
  • Monday, May 1st – Worker’s Day
  • Monday May 8th – V-E Day
  • Thursday, May 18th – Ascension Day
  • Monday May 29th – Whit Monday (Lundi de Pentecôte – for some workers only).
  • Friday, July 14th – Bastille Day (Fête Nationale)
  • Tuesday, August 15th – The Assumption (l’Assomption)
  • Wednesday, November 1st – All Saints’ Day (Toussaint)
  • Saturday, November 11th – Armistice Day
  • Monday, December 25th – Christmas Day
 
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