The French government on Thursday launched a package of measures aimed at cutting the country’s energy consumption by 10 percent in the hope of getting through the winter without power cuts.
Energy Transition Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told a crowd – which included several cabinet ministers, business leaders and other officials – that the target was “only the first step” towards an objective of cutting energy use by 40 percent by 2050.
“Urgent action is needed,” she said, calling for “a general mobilisation” in favour of restraint in energy use which should lead to a 10-percent reduction in energy use within two years compared to its 2019 level.
“Our fight does not end with the winter of 2022-2023,” she added.
Energy prices, already on the rise at the end of last year, spiked further after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which caused severe disruptions in gas supplies to western Europe.
The energy plan comes a day after the announcement that French gas reserves are at 100 percent but experts warn this may not be enough, depending on the severity of the coming winter.
To avoid shortages, the government recommended a host of measures, including less heating and lighting, more remote work for staff in government services and boosting carpooling.
The government hoped citizens and businesses would voluntarily follow the suggestions, which Pannier-Runacher said were not meant as “punitive ecology”.
Earlier Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron told business leaders: “If we all mobilise to meet this objective, we will get through the winter even in the most unfavourable scenarios.”
He said the aim of the plan was not less production or declining economic growth.
“Restraint simply means becoming more efficient,” he said.
A key recommendation is to cap indoor temperatures at 19 degrees Celsius (66 Fahrenheit) although, said Pannier-Runacher, “there will be no temperature police” checking on compliance.
Households, businesses and administrations should also start heating two weeks later this autumn and winter, and end heating two weeks earlier than usual.
The temperature of public indoor sports facilities will be cut by two degrees Celsius, and that of the water in public swimming pools by one degree.
Civil servants will receive 2.88 euros ($2.86) per day if they work from home, a measure that could allow administrations to shut down for several days at a time, saving on heating costs, said Public Service Minister Stanislas Guerini.
Business leaders, meanwhile, told the government during previous consultations they were not in favour of more remote work, which they said would do little for their energy bills.
While welcoming the government’s ideas, some environmental groups were critical of the lack of control mechanisms for actual energy savings.
Anne Bringault, at the Reseau Action Climat NGO, said too little oversight “carries the risk of demotivating people”.