Homes and offices has heated to a maximum of 19°C; no hot water in public buildings; no lit advertising overnight; a ban on doors left open in heated or air-conditioned shops; reduced temperatures in swimming pools and gyms: these are some examples of the action France is taking to save energy.
The government has unveiled “15 flagship” measures as part of an energy efficiency plan to get through the winter without blackouts — and also prepare the country for much greater long-term savings to face up to the climate emergency.
Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the energy transition minister, called for a “general mobilization” of the whole country to achieve a “10% reduction in energy consumption” in two years’ time, compared to 2019.
She described it as a “first step” towards achieving a 40% cut by 2050 recommended by climate experts for the country to become carbon neutral.
The measures cover the likes of public services, businesses, housing, transport, and sports facilities. They call for less heating and lighting, encourage more remote working where it is energy-efficient, and introduce incentives for carpooling.
The centerpiece of what’s being called the “sobriety plan” is the 19°C indoor temperature recommendation, which has actually been part of the energy code since 1978.
“There is no obligation in the sense that there will be no temperature police”, the minister said, calling also for the start and end of the winter heating period to be adjusted by a fortnight.
That brought a warning from the campaign group Réseau Action Climat (Climate Action Network) against the ineffectiveness of unenforced, voluntary measures. The government replied that it would monitor weekly gas and electricity consumption.
Conscious of the need to set an example, the state is allocating €150 million to ensure that boilers are renovated and thermostats installed in government buildings.
Explaining the move to cut hot water, the civil service ministry says water heating accounts for 10% of the energy used in public buildings, and the state’s energy consumption is equivalent to that of the city of Paris.
The ministry has also announced a 15% increase in the allowance for working from home for public employees (to €2.88 a day) — but only if the practice allows buildings to be closed for several days in a row, enabling heating to be switched off.
The plan for sports facilities involves lowering the heating of public facilities, reducing the water temperature in swimming pools by one degree and gyms by two degrees, and moderating the lighting before and after sports fixtures.
Mountain resorts will also reduce the speed of ski lifts at off-peak times and produce less artificial snow, the managing body for ski resorts said.
Minister Pannier-Runacher, stressed the plan involved a “concerted effort” in the economic world, and was not “punitive environmentalism”.
Meanwhile President Emmanuel Macron told business owners the entire country needs to work together.
“If the whole nation manages to keep this objective, which is purely voluntary — there is no need for a legal decree, or complicated things — if we all come together to stick to it, in the worst case scenario we will get through the winter,” the president said.
Although France is less dependent on Russian gas than eastern neighbours like Germany, French nuclear power production has slumped as the sector struggles to bring more of its aging reactors online out of forced maintenance.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said France would continue to support Ukraine against Russian aggression, despite the sacrifices that might involve energy savings.