Energy is first and foremost a number written at the bottom of a bill. Consequently, when the price of electricity increases, the price of fuels soars while that of fossil gas explodes, we realize that our comfort of life depends entirely on the energy at our disposal. It then becomes what it really is, very concrete, very physical since it measures the ability to transform matter to produce a useful service: heating, cooling, lighting, moving, manufacturing, etc. The speed of these transformations is fixed by the flow of energy, which physics calls “power”.
After a long period of energy inebriation, next winter promises to be particularly uncertain. First, we could find ourselves in a shortage situation. Now that the flow of fossil gas imported from Russia has fallen to zero, or almost, our stock could prove to be insufficient. In its underground storage centers, France currently has just over a quarter of its annual consumption, but the European stock represents only a fifth of the Union’s consumption. It is therefore becoming important to act on the demand for gas: sobriety, frugality, restraint, restriction or rationing make it possible to adapt consumption in order to make the stock last.
Then the power might be insufficient. In France, 32 of our 56 nuclear reactors are shut down. The reason: corrosion problems affect 12 reactors and the fleet maintenance schedule has been delayed by Covid-19. By the end of the year, 28 reactors should be back in service.
Insufficient power supply is a power problem. As electricity is a form of energy that is difficult to store, the management of our electrical network requires a permanent balance between the power produced and the power consumed. We are used to production adapting to our consumption, giving the illusion of unlimited power.
But in the current situation, production could struggle to keep up with consumption, which could, at worst, lead to a total interruption of electricity. Avoiding it requires adapting consumption to production, for example by limiting the use of electrical appliances to the most critical times (at the start of the day, around 8 a.m., and at the end of the day around 7 p.m.) or by disconnecting certain users, industrial first.
To circumvent this double problem of energy and power, the French government is increasing calls for sobriety. If the intention is laudable, it should not be forgotten that doing without fossil fuels completely will require a massive reduction in both the quantity of energy used and the rate at which it is used.
If sobriety is only a gesture of circumstance, a symbolic action to avoid the worst before starting again, it will have been only a bandage on a wooden leg. Our government should therefore work relentlessly to establish the economic and social framework so that the reduction of our environmental footprint, which will go hand in hand with our energy security, can be achieved in a sustainable and fair manner.