Winter without petrol? Effect of our “small gestures”? Seven questions about saving energy
“trash hunt”, “Sobriety”, “exemplary”… not the hit of the summer of 2022 Are you coming on vacation?but rather What are you doing to use less electricity? If the original goal – to return “a logic of sobriety”said Emmanuel Macron on July 14 – seems clear, the debate is in fact more complex than it seems. Purchasing power, energy independence, fight against climate change… an overview of the topics in seven questions.
1. Why is there so much talk about saving energy these days?
Three main reasons converge to force this issue into the public debate. First, fossil fuel use is by far the main driver of climate change. According to the Ministry for Ecological Transition, the burning of coal, oil or gas and industrial processes are responsible for around 65% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) worldwide.
In addition, there has been a sharp increase in prices worldwide in recent months, in particular as a result of the war in Ukraine and, in particular, energy prices. Travel, lighting or heating costs are higher, prompting public authorities to look for solutions to help households in difficulty.
After all, the current crisis is threatening an energy shortage. With the fear of gas or power outages in France and elsewhere in Europe.
Consuming less energy therefore means less impact on the environment, saving money, but also reducing the risk of the system bending under load.
2. Why should we reduce our electricity consumption if we are going to give up gas?
When the prospect of a winter without supplies of Russian gas (which accounts for 40% of imports from the European Union) is raised, the issue of the continent’s power generation capacity quickly comes to the fore. The two issues are linked: a significant part of the gas is used directly to generate electricity (about a fifth of the gas consumed in France, according to the Ministry of Ecological Transition). Electricity savings can also lead to gas savings.
Fossil thermal power plants (mainly gas) produce only 7% of all electricity consumed in France, according to the manager Electricity Transmission Network (RTE), since the large share comes from nuclear power (almost 70% in 2021). However, this small proportion is essential to bridge the consumption peaks of the year. Elsewhere in Europe, this is all the more true: According to Eurostat, gas-fired power plants still produced 20% of the electricity on the continent in 2020. However, the European market is interconnected: the countries of the European Union that are most dependent on gas are very likely to be dependent on the electricity capacities of their neighbours.
In addition, the French electricity market was already tight before the war in Ukraine. RTE warned in 2020 and then in 2021 of the risks that weigh on the French network during the winter. The likely abandonment of Russian gas, therefore, only reinforces the need to conserve electricity.
3. Should we expect power outages this winter?
In the cold season, the power requirement is highest due to the increased need for light and heating. So the challenge is to enable the network to overcome these spikes. However, French power generation has been running at half-mast for a number of years, largely because many nuclear reactors have been shut down. The maximum capacity of the network is therefore reduced and the need to conserve gas further complicates the equation.
Conversely, peaks in energy consumption cannot be precisely predicted, as their magnitude depends heavily on the climate. A major cold spell like the one in February 2012, which lasted almost two weeks, would particularly damage the French power grid.
Local and temporary outages are possible
The French government, led by Emmanuel Macron, is making sure that there is no threat of power failure in France. In fact, there are several levels to try to avoid such an outcome. First there is the call “Eco Gestures” Individuals and businesses to limit their consumption when a peak is approaching. RTE, for example, did this on April 4 with an “orange” Ecowatt warning. This signal reduced the maximum requested power by 0.8 gigawatts (GW) for a peak of 71.6 GW, or 1% less than it could have been.
RTE can also use two other mechanisms to pay for this time: curtailment, to buy back power from voluntary companies, and “interruption contracts,” which allow power to be shut off at certain industrial sites. If this is not sufficient, the mains can be subjected to a voltage drop of 5% (with visible effects on it).
If the scenario a “cut” Plain and simple, the government today excludes the Internet because there is one last option if all that is not enough: the “rotating load shedding”. This means locally limited network interruptions over time windows of a maximum of two hours per day, between 8:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. or between 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. “It’s not a common blackout, but those who experience it would probably still refer to it as a ‘blackout.'”observes Nicolas Goldberg, energy officer at the consulting firm Colombus Consulting.
In summary, the worst-case scenario today is far from the most likely. However, preparing the French grid for the coming winters has environmental costs – when it is necessary to use fossil fuels to meet demand – and economic ones – when the state has to pay companies to interrupt their consumption. . And will require increased efforts to reduce our electricity consumption.
4. What is the government doing to reduce energy consumption?
Unplug as many sockets as possible when you’re away, lower the heating temperature, don’t send e-mails with attachments that are too large… in recent weeks the government has called on individuals to reduce their energy consumption. . Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne also sent a circular to her ministers on Tuesday 26 July, urging administrations to submit it“exemplary” in that case.
This was announced by the Minister for Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher The Sunday Newspaper (The JDD), on July 24 several measures for companies. These include the generalization of a ban on neon signs between 1am and 6am and a ban on opening shops with the air conditioning or heating on.
5. Are the “small gestures” of daily life of interest?
The individual measures promoted by the government are based on a simple logic: reducing energy consumption through small measures that can be applied now prepares for the arrival of the energy consumption peaks of the coming winter.
For example, if you lower the heating temperature of your home by one degree, you can reduce your bill by 7%, according to the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management (Ademe). There is still room for improvement on this point: the average heating temperature in the European Union would be around 22°C, while in living spaces it is more advisable to limit it to 19°C.
However, these short-term measures will not be nearly enough to meet the climate challenge in the long term. The goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 requires significantly higher energy savings and a phase-out of fossil fuels. Coming back to the example of heating, not only will it be necessary to put up with the hunt for energy waste, but also to optimize the energy performance of homes, replacing oil or gas heating with more sober alternatives.
6. What is energy sobriety?
During his speech on July 14, Emmanuel Macron said he wants to reduce France’s energy consumption by 10% by 2024 compared to 2019. The goal? “Prepare for a scenario where we have to go completely without Russian gas. » Speaking of sobriety in his speech, the President of the Republic declares that it will be necessary “Organize life differently and smooth consumption peaks”.
These remarks contribute to a certain fuzziness around two very different logics: on the one hand, the rationing of efforts in exceptional situations, which can include in particular this idea of a better distribution of energy consumption to avoid excessive peaks; on the other hand, the energy sobriety that starts from a more rigorous logic, with a reduction in energy consumption through structural and sustainable changes.
Beyond a simple search for efficiency, Energy Sobriety aims to respond to climate change by drastically reducing CO emissions.2. This includes striving for energy savings, especially as electricity generation was still the source of 41% of CO emissions.2 in the world in 2018. But also by switching to less carbon-intensive energy sources and questioning our consumption patterns more globally. A study published in the journal Nature in September 2021 estimates that to limit global warming to less than 1.5ºC by 2050, almost 60% of oil and natural gas and 90% of coal should be stored underground.
In addition to climate change, there are other ecological challenges, such as the issue of depletion of energy resources. Although this phenomenon is difficult to predict over time, the trend is that it is becoming increasingly difficult, costly and polluting to extract fossil resources such as oil.
7. Will the current crisis benefit the fight against climate change?
It depends. Small and large energy savings are, on the face of it, part of the answer to both the short-term energy crisis and the climate crisis at large. But the issue remains politically sensitive. For this reason, the French government has taken measures to cushion the sharp rise in fuel and gas prices (rebate at the pump, customs shield, etc.).
These devices are easy on the consumer’s wallet, but they do not encourage saving. “We kill the price signal and with it the need to save energy”deplores Nicolas Goldberg of Colombus Consulting, who argues that more targeted aid to the less affluent households could have avoided this pitfall.
Worse, fears of blackouts are delaying France’s phase-out of coal-fired power plants, which emit more greenhouse gases than their gas counterparts. The Saint-Avold coal-fired power station in the Moselle, which was closed on March 31, could start up again this winter, “as a precaution”. Or when short-term goals directly conflict with climate issues.