Cold showers and dark streets: How EU countries are cutting energy use

Governments across Europe are taking steps to try to reduce gas use by 15% this winter as they contend with Russian supply shutdown

As the Irish Government develops plans to save energy use this winter to cope with a price surge and potential shortages, several other European Union countries have already rolled out measures to cut back on power requirements.

Until last year Russia supplied 40 per cent of the EU’s gas, making for large disruption as the state energy giant Gazprom cuts the flow and Moscow pressures the West to lift sanctions imposed over its invasion of Ukraine.

This summer, the EU’s 27 member states agreed to voluntarily reduce their gas use by 15 per cent to try to get ahead of potential shortages and bring down surging prices by lowering demand. But what are their plans to reach the target?

A spreading practice of turning off outdoor lighting at night is already making a noticeable difference, with streets visibly darker in spots across the continent.


In Spain, shop window lighting must go dark at 10pm, and in public buildings, airports, rail stations, shopping centres, cinemas and theatres, air conditioning should not be set below 27 degrees and heating not above 19 degrees. Venues must have mechanisms to automatically close doors to avoid the waste of energy under the measures which were approved by the Spanish parliament on August 25th.

In Germany, an “energy saving ordinance” has already come into force. It requires shops to shut their doors to reduce the use of air conditioning and heating, and for illuminated advertising to be turned off after 10pm, while monuments may no longer be lit up at night.

Office temperatures are limited to a maximum of 19 degrees while, in public buildings, halls and corridors will no longer be heated, with some exceptions such as hospitals. Public buildings must limit the heating of water, meaning cold showers only in some swimming pools and sports halls. Households are not allowed to heat private pools using gas and electricity. Further rules are expected in October.

French president Emmanuel Macron in July announced an “energy sobriety” plan that is expected to involve closing doors to keep in heat, lowering the temperature dial and turning off advertising signs during the night.

The French government has also asked private companies to draw up their own plans to save energy, warning that they are first in line to be hit if shortages force the country to ration gas. “If it comes to rationing, companies will be the first to be hit and we all need to prepare for it,” prime minister Élisabeth Borne told a conference last week. “All companies need to mobilise and take action.”

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The French state will set an example by cutting electricity use in ministries by 10 per cent, she continued. During the summer, supermarket industry group Perifem announced an agreement for the sector to reduce its electricity use, which will involve turning off illuminated signs when they close, reducing lighting within stores and other measures, to be implemented from October 15th.

Italy’s government is finalising plans to ask its population to turn down the heating by one degree and switch it off for an additional hour from October, in a measures that would cover both homes and public buildings, according to media reports.

The 15 per cent fall in gas use agreed in July is voluntary. If a supply “alert” were to be triggered, the cuts in usage can become obligatory. Ireland secured an exemption to mandatory cuts along with Malta and Cyprus on the basis that, as island states, they are separate from the general EU grid, but the Government said it would nevertheless voluntarily try to reduce usage.

Proposals under consideration are likely to resemble the plans of France and Germany, sources said, potentially involving limits to heating in offices and buildings.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times