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Colder offices and fewer Christmas lights ... what Europe is doing to cut down on energy use

The EU plans to cut gas consumption by 15% between 1 August 2022 and 31 March 2023.

new-law-to-save-energy-goes-into-effect The unlit Victory Column, one of Berlin's premiere landmarks, on the second day of a new law to save energy nationwide Source: Christian Ender via Getty Images

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION HAS today proposed a series of measures to control skyrocketing energy prices in Europe and punish Moscow for invading Ukraine, including a price cap on Russian gas.

EU countries are scrambling to face up to a challenging winter ahead, with European consumers facing eye-watering heating bills with natural gas and electricity prices hovering at record levels.

Friday’s announcement by Russian energy giant Gazprom of a complete shutdown of the crucial Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany has increased fears of hard months ahead for European households.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, warned that any country that introduces a price cap will receive no Russian energy supplies at all: “No gas, no oil, no coal, no fuel oil, nothing.”

With this, let’s take a look at some of the efforts being made by countries across Europe, and what the European Commission said today…

‘An extraordinary situation’

European energy ministers are to meet on Friday to discuss action, and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said she had proposed them a series of measures, including a price cap.

Leyen also said that a mandatory target for reducing electricity use at peak hours will be on the table, as the EU has to save electricity, but “in a smart way”.

So what we have to do is to flatten the curve and avoid the peak demands. We will propose a mandatory target for reducing electricity use at peak hours. And we will work very closely with the Member States to achieve this.

“We are facing an extraordinary situation, because Russia is an unreliable supplier and is manipulating our energy markets,” she warned today.

“Our unity and our solidarity will ensure that we will prevail,” she added.

Laying out her plan, von der Leyen urged that member states agree a price cap on Russian gas imports, a measure that Putin has warned would be “an absolutely stupid decision”.

“The objective here is very clear. We must cut Russia’s revenues which Putin uses to finance this atrocious war against Ukraine,” von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission told reporters.

The EU executive will also ask member countries to “re-channel” profits of fossil fuel companies that are seeing historically high revenues thanks to the energy shock caused by the war.

“Oil and gas companies have also made massive profits. We will therefore propose a solidarity contribution for fossil fuel companies,” she said.

The EU’s energy ministers are set to debate the commission’s ideas, with many countries expected to come to the table with their own proposals.

A spokesperson for Minister Eamon Ryan said:

“We haven’t the detail of the proposal yet, however, we agree with the overall principle of not paying excessively for low-cost energy in order that costs can be kept as low as possible for home and businesses across the country. Minister Ryan looks forward to discussing the matter at Friday’s meeting of EU Ministers.”

Reduce Your Use

Taking a look at Ireland’s energy saving efforts this year, the Government a number of months ago launched its ‘Reduce Your Use’ campaign, encouraging people to cut back on their energy consumption.

Today, Energy Minister Eamon Ryan brought a memo to Cabinet today on renewing the emphasis of the Government’s campaign, asking the public to use cookers, washing machines, dryers and kettles outside the peak hours where possible.

Ryan said yesterday that the campaign advice will be “strengthened and much more widely deployed”.

If the public, the Government and business do not cut back on their energy consumption between now and the end of the year, energy supply will be “very tight”, Ryan told RTÉ’s Prime Time last night. 

“We could all play our part, making sure that we don’t use energy between 5 and 7 o’clock in the evening,” he said.

Ryan said that the memo he brought to Cabinet today on energy reduction is the first of a series of memos on energy expected over the winter months.

The Minister also confirmed today that customers can expect to get an additional electricity credit before Christmas. 

In April, a €200 electricity credit was applied to each household as part of measures announced to help people with the rising cost-of-living.

Public buildings

Looking elsewhere in Europe, Italy launched earlier this year what it called Operation Thermostat to try to lower heating and cut back on air conditioning in schools and public buildings.

France and Germany have also called on their public sectors to lead the way in saving power in the same way.

In Germany, public buildings including the Bundestag, or parliament, are to forego hot water.

Speaking earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a 10% reduction in the country’s energy use in the coming weeks and months to avoid the risk of rationing and cuts this winter. 

Macron said energy rationing plans are being prepared “in case” they are needed, and that “cuts will happen as a last resort”.

“The best energy is that which we don’t consume,” the French leader said at a news conference, where he urged French businesses and households to save energy, including by turning down heating and air conditioning.

Speaking after a videoconference on Monday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Macron announced a plan to boost gas supplies to Germany from France to make up for a drop in Russian gas supplies from the east.

In exchange, Macron said Germany will continue supplying electricity to France to make up for shortages caused by maintenance under way on many French nuclear reactors.

Macron said France and Germany support the idea of requiring energy companies that are making big profits on recent spikes in gas and oil prices to make some sort of “contribution” to public coffers, and a price cap on Russian gas.

Closed doors, open shops

Back on the topic of air conditioning, shops that use such must keep their doors closed or face a fine.

And in Germany, shops have launched an advertising campaign to inform customers that they can go inside, even if the doors are closed.

In Spain, since 10 August air conditioning has to be turned down and be set at no lower than 27 degrees during the warmest months of the year, in rules affecting everything from public transport to shops, offices, theatres and cinemas.

The legislation also affects heating in winter, when temperatures can be set no higher than 19 degrees.

By the end of September, any air-conditioned or heated premises in Spain must have an automatic door-closing mechanism installed to avoid energy waste.

Illuminated advertising

In France, illuminated advertising screens will be banned between 1am and 6am, except in airports and railway stations. The ban which could soon be brought forward to 10pm, mirroring Germany.

A two-square-metre digital LCD screen uses the equivalent of the average annual consumption of a household for lighting and household appliances, except heating.

Swimming pools and saunas

Germany has banned heating private swimming pools from September.

Several cities have lowered the temperature in their swimming pools and made cuts in urban lighting.

A housing cooperative in the eastern city of Dresden made national headlines when it announced it would limit hot water to certain times of day.

And Vonovia, Germany’s largest property group, plans to limit the temperature in its 350,000 homes to 17 degrees at night.

In Finland, people are being urged to spend less time in their beloved saunas.

Public lighting

In Vienna, there will be no Christmas lights this year on the Ring, the famous boulevard that encircles the centre of the Austrian capital.

And the lights at the Christmas market in the square in front of the city hall will only be switched on at night and not at dusk, about an hour later, on average, every day.

In Spain, from 10pm shops have to switch off window-display lighting in a move also affecting the illumination of public buildings.

In Germany, the Bavarian city of Augsburg has turned off its fountains, dimmed the facades of public buildings at night and is debating switching off some under-used traffic lights.

Small daily gestures

Under its ‘A degree lower’ campaign, Finland will from October encourage its citizens to turn down their radiators, take shorter showers and not heat their garages.

Germany’s summer campaign involved encouraging buying more water-efficient shower heads.

Includes reporting by Christina Finn, Press Association and – © AFP 2022

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