As Russia chokes off Europe’s gas, France enters an era of ‘sobriety’ in energy

A factory that makes famous French bistros is turning off its ovens to offset rising energy costs. Cities across France are turning off street lamps and other outdoor lighting to reduce electricity use. In Normandy, some schools will start heating classrooms by burning wood to conserve natural gas.

As Russia tightens its screws on Europe’s energy supplies, France is embarking on the largest energy conservation effort since the oil crisis of the 1970s. President Emmanuel Macron’s government is calling on the French to prepare for a new era of energy “sobriety” to meet the threat of a harsh winter, while reassuring families and businesses about the government’s ability to protect them.

“We have faced a series of crises, one more dangerous than the other,” Macron said in a televised address to the nation late last month. “The picture I am painting is the end of abundance,” he added. “We have reached a turning point.”

The national effort calls on businesses and individuals to embrace energy conservation by increasing vehicle assembly, lowering thermostats and shutting down billboards at night—to name a few—or facing the threat of blackouts or power rationing.

on Friday, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the transitional energy minister, sought to reassure worried citizens, saying the government would try to “avoid restrictive measures” on energy use at the height of the winter cold season.

The government has spent generously – more than 26 billion euros ($26 billion) since the Russian invasion of Ukraine – to keep gas and electricity bills affordable, and announced last week that its cap on household energy bills would be extended through the end of the year. . Moves to control energy costs, including Renationalization of the EDF power supply, helped give France one of the lowest inflation rates in Europe, at 6.5 percent. (The eurozone aggregate rate for August was 9.1%.)

But with food and fuel costs continuing to burden French families, Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne has called on businesses to make the bulk of the country’s energy savings — fast. Companies will be required to cut energy use by 10 percent or face forced rationing of electricity and gas.

Companies will have to appoint an “energy sobriety ambassador” this month, and present schemes for the government to reduce their electricity consumption.

France is hardly alone In the scramble to confront the severe energy crisis caused by Russia’s crushing invasion of Ukraine.

The clear readiness of Russian President Vladimir Putin Using energy as a weapon Last week, Russia’s state-owned gas company Gazprom halted gas supplies to France – pushing oil and gas prices to record levels.

Countries including France have Reserves increase As Gazprom shuts down the taps: This weekend, gas storage facilities in France were 92 percent full. However, energy bills for homes and businesses roseprompting European governments to resort to a range of compensation that many did not think was possible before the war.

Germany, Europe’s largest user of Russian gas, backed away from plans on Monday to shut down Two of the remaining three nuclear power plants By the end of the year, on Sunday announced a $65 billion aid package To reduce the burden of high energy costs on citizens. Italy looks to Algeria As a potential new supplier of natural gas to replace Russian fuel. In Spain, the government launched a major effort to improve energy efficiency In buildings and industry.

France may seem less vulnerable than its neighbors: it has the largest nuclear energy arsenal of any EU country, and it is one of the countries least dependent on Russian natural gas. but France Facing an energy crisis of its ownIts nuclear industry deals with cracks, corrosion and other problems that have forced EDF to temporarily shut down 32 of France’s 56 nuclear reactors.

And blackouts at EDF, also Europe’s largest source of electricity, have reduced France’s nuclear power production to its lowest level in nearly three decades. In addition, France’s worst drought in 30 years this summer has lowered river levels, slashing hydropower supplies.

Instead of pumping massive amounts of electricity to Britain, Italy and other European countries that depend on Russian fuel, France now faces the worrying prospect of starting winter blackouts and having to import power or turn to coal-fired plants for its energy needs — scenarios the government is striving to avoid .

The crisis has already begun to force temporary shutdowns at energy-intensive businesses, including steel, chemical and glass makers. Wholesale electricity prices for 2023 in France, Friday, set a record, exceeding 1,000 euros per megawatt-hour. Many French companies and retailers buy their electricity on three-year contracts that expire, which means it will have to be renewed at peak prices.

Duralex International, The classic small wine and water tumbler maker announced last week that it will put its ovens on standby for at least four months starting in November and put 250 employees on furlough to save energy and money.

The company said that for several months it had been facing “extremely unfavorable financial production conditions, linked only to the price of energy”, which exploded after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Production at the daily energy price would generate unsustainable losses,” Jose Luis Lacona, president of Duralex, said in the statement, adding that he did not expect to restart the plant until the second quarter of 2023.

in Crystal Darkes, the French manufacturer of elegant crystal wine glasses, 1,650 of the company’s 5,000 employees will be given partial leave until the end of the year. Guillaume Rabel Suquet, director of communications, told French television that the company’s gas bill had quadrupled from the end of last year, to 75 million euros, and could reach 260 million euros in 2023 if prices did not fall, making operations “uneconomically viable.” “. “

The government has tried to offset some, but not all, companies’ suffering, although it recently announced a €3 billion special fund to help companies that cannot pay their energy bills.

President Macron, who faced a grueling presidential election campaign in April that saw far-right rival Marine Le Pen make gains by addressing French families. Concerns about purchasing powerto protect families from rising energy costs.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said last week that a 4 percent cap on increases in household electricity prices that began last winter, will be extended until the end of the year, and will run until 2023 for vulnerable households. Price ceiling is a stark contrast to 80 percent increase In the energy bills that households in Britain are expected to face next month.

Without the cap, French inflation would be about three percentage points higher, French statistics agency ANSI said in a report released on Friday.

However, Ms Bourne cautioned that French citizens would have to bear their weight. In recent days, the government has issued advertisements calling on the French to limit a range of activities, in the hopes of saving energy collectively. Among them: Refraining from turning on washing machines at night, keeping thermostats at 66 degrees Fahrenheit, and increasing public transportation use.

Cities and towns all over the earth have been urged to double their energy savings in almost any way they see fit. Many municipalities outside of Paris have started closing swimming pools intermittently this summer to save money. Other cities restrict public lighting, which can account for more than 40 percent of electricity bills.

The town of Thuar in western France has turned off its street lights from 10pm-6am since June and plans to replace the lamps with LED lighting. Strasbourg, a medium-sized city on the German border, will close museums two days a week instead of one.

In northern France, some secondary schools in Brittany will reduce their thermostats, while the neighboring Normandy region will test the use of wood-burning stoves for heating in some schools as an alternative to gas.

Companies have until October to present their plans to reduce electricity consumption by 10 percent.

“We need a drastic change,” Ms Bourne said. “Everyone should ask themselves what they can do to consume less.”

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