Russian gas is becoming rarer in Europe than sunflower oil or mustard. On Monday, the giant Gazprom further reduced its exports to Italy by a third. At the same time, the two Nord Stream 1 gas pipelines were cut between Russia and Germany, for ten days of work. In theory. Because nothing says that in the particular context of the war in Ukraine, imports will then resume. A drop in supplies which prompted the French Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, traveling to Aix-en-Provence on Sunday, to prepare “for the worst-case scenario”. Understand: a “total cut off of Russian gas (is) today the most likely option. »
In fact, since June 15, France no longer receives Russian gas, Paris having refused to pay Gazprom in rubles, a condition set by Moscow to maintain its exports. As we will have understood, the trend is not to go back in the coming weeks, or even the next few months. With what consequences in France?
A relatively quiet summer
Paris is much less dependent on Russian gas than its transalpine or German neighbors. It represents only 17% of the gas used in the country, France is also supplied in Algeria and Norway, while counting on other sources of energy, in particular nuclear, informs Hugues Poissonnier, professor of economy and strategy at Grenoble School of Management. As a result, according to the expert: “in the short term, everything should continue to work well”. It’s been nearly a month since supplies have been cut off and you probably haven’t seen any noticeable changes.
Beyond the French energy mix, summer partly explains this relative tranquility, due to lower energy consumption. But winter is approaching, and with it anxiety. The Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, did not say anything else on Saturday: “France may have tensions over gas this winter”.
winter is coming
If it is difficult to read the future, in the event of a total cut between Russia and the Europeans, we must expect expensive energy. “Even if France is not very dependent on Russian gas, it would increase the price of gas on a global scale, which would eventually affect the country”, explains Maria-Eugenia Sanin, lecturer in economics at Paris-Saclay University. This is the domino effect: European countries exchange energy, especially electricity, so that the impact of the boycott of Russia on the most dependent Nations, such as Germany, is felt. in France, regardless of its autonomy vis-à-vis Moscow.
Great restrictions could therefore take place. Across the Rhine, an economy plan has already been adopted: no more heating above 20°C next winter, for example. “In France, the first restrictions should concern public buildings, in order to set an example. Second, the industry would be affected. Companies using the most energy could be forced to postpone production. Finally, it is on individuals and households that we would impose restrictions”, list Carine Sebi, economist at Grenoble Ecole de Management and specialist in the energy sector. “We are going to enter into a management of scarcity, trying, as far as possible, to choose our restrictions in order to favor the least restrictive possible, which do not jeopardize either the economy or the population”, announces Carole Mathieu, responsible for European policies at the Energy & Climate Center of the French Institute for International Relations (Ifri). Bruno Le Maire, for example, mentioned the possibility of no longer heating the swimming pools.
Need for inventory
Without imposing anything, several large groups, such as TotalEnergie, have already asked the French to limit their energy consumption this summer. The idea is simple: the less you spend now, the greater the reserves for the winter. “By definition, we cannot store electricity, but we can store the means to produce it”, specifies Hugues Poissonnier. Gas, oil… France has gas stocks that are 67% full and is aiming for 80% for November, informs Carole Mathieu. Last year, they were only 50% full at the start of the summer, notes Maria-Eugenia Sanin, proof that Paris is trying to take the lead.
“Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is also an option, as it occurs in more accommodating countries than Russia, such as the United States. But it is extremely expensive, poses serious ecological problems and everyone is going to tear it off, setting reserve limits”, asks Hugues Poissonnier. Other fossil energies could be called to the rescue: an increased use of oil – and even the return of coal – are envisaged in France. But “reopening coal-fired power plants would be an ecologically absurd decision and a real step backwards. This shows the urgency of the situation,” says Carine Sebi.
A warm winter is requested at the reception
It is that nuclear power, the juggernaut of French energy (40% of the energy mix), is not very adaptable. “It’s an energy of regularity, for a constant and stable need, but which doesn’t go well with consumption peaks like in winter. Faced with these sudden increases, you need energy that adapts very quickly, ”continues the professor.
Exorbitant prices, global demand, ill-adapted energy, winter is therefore likely to be harsh if Russian gas does not come knocking at our doors. “It will also depend on the temperatures. The colder it gets, the more our abilities will be undermined,” says Carine Sebi. To get by this winter, you will therefore have to rely in part… on the luck of the weather.