This year, the ministers’ turtlenecks are staying in the closet. Are public appearances with down jackets on their backs to encourage citizens to save energy a thing of the past? The Russian-Ukrainian conflict being far from over, the problem of Russian gas – which supplied 40% of the European market before the invasion of Ukraine – remains as crucial as ever. Some French and European power plants consume natural gas to turn their turbines and produce electricity. Why then are we not strongly encouraged, like last year, to turn off the lights and turn off our gas stoves? Because “we are in a better position than last year”, welcomes Agnès Pannier-Runacher, Minister of Energy Transition, who even says she is “very confident for this winter”.
The end of the dark period can be explained primarily by the restoration of the nuclear fleet, the primary source of electricity production in France. Without even taking into account the geopolitical situation, part of it found itself shut down last year, due to anomalies detected on several operations, coupled with maintenance planned on the agenda on other reactors. Since then, some have restarted. “Currently, nearly 70% of our nuclear power plants are operating, compared to just over half last year,” says Nicolas Leclerc, co-founder of Omnegy, an energy consulting firm for businesses and communities. A rate that is still not optimal in the eyes of this trained engineer, who recommends 90% activity in winter. But the current fleet has still allowed France to regain its leading position as an electricity exporter in Europe.
The country can also count on hydraulic electricity, the reserves of which are higher thanks to a year less marked by droughts. Gas stocks have been replenished since the crisis. France, which was one of the countries least dependent on Russian gas, now obtains its supplies from Norway, the United States and Algeria in particular. At the same time, Brussels presented a reform of the gas market, which is in the process of being adopted. The goal: to make electricity prices less dependent on those of fossil fuels, in order to avoid other energy crises in the future.
Finally, there are us, the users. The change in behavior led to a 12% reduction in electricity and gas consumption last year, compared to the years before the crisis. The concern to reduce the bill in the face of rising electricity prices has been added to calls from public authorities for greater energy efficiency. But if the crisis seems to have passed, good reflexes, such as heating your home to 19°C, remain essential, insists Agnès Pannier-Runacher. “We must make sobriety long-term, to give it a horizon that goes beyond one or two winters; that of the energy transition and the carbon neutrality objective that we have set for 2050.”