Russian gas is becoming rarer in Europe than sunflower or mustard oil. On Monday, the giant Gazprom further reduced exports to Italy by a third. At the same time, the two Nord Stream 1 gas pipelines between Russia and Germany were cut for ten days of work. In theory. Because nothing says that in the particular context of the war in Ukraine, imports will resume. A drop in supplies that prompted the French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, on a trip to Aix-en-Provence, to prepare “for the worst case scenario” on Sunday. Understand: a “total cut in Russian gas (is) the most likely option today.”

Indeed, as of June 15, France no longer receives Russian gas, as Paris refused to pay Gazprom in rubles, a condition imposed by Moscow to maintain its exports. As we will have understood, the trend is not to go back in the next few weeks, or even in the next few months. With what consequences in France?

A relatively quiet summer

Paris is much less dependent on Russian gas than its French or German neighbors. It represents only 17% of the gas used in the country, France is also supplied to Algeria and Norway, while counting on other sources of energy, in particular nuclear, informs Hugues Poissonnier, professor of economics and strategy at the Grenoble School of Management. Consequently, according to the expert: “in the short term, everything should continue to work well”. It’s been nearly a month since supplies were 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. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said no more on Saturday: “France could have gas tensions this winter”.

winter is coming

If it is difficult to read the future, in the event of a total cut between Russia and 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, professor of 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 from Moscow.

There could therefore be major restrictions. On the other side of the Rhine, an economic plan has already been adopted: next winter, for example, it will no longer heat up above 20 ° C. “In France, the first restrictions should concern public buildings, to set an example. Secondly, the industry would suffer. Companies that consume more energy may be forced to postpone production. Finally, it is individuals and families that we will impose restrictions ”, lists Carine Sebi, economist of Grenoble Ecole de Management and specialist in the energy sector. “We will enter into a management of scarcity, trying, as far as possible, to choose our constraints to favor the least restrictive possible, which does not jeopardize either the economy or the population”, announces Carole Mathieu, Head of European Policies at the Center for energy and climate of the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri). Bruno Le Maire, for example, mentioned the possibility of no longer heating 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 more reserves will be for the winter. “By definition, we cannot store electricity, but we can store the means to produce it,” says Hugues Poissonnier. Gas, oil … France has gas stocks 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, showing that Paris are 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, it poses serious ecological problems and everyone will cut it off, setting reserve limits, ”asks Hugues Poissonnier. Other fossil fuels could be called to the rescue: increased use of oil is expected in France – and even the return of coal. But “reopening coal 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 required at the reception

The fact is that nuclear power, the French energy giant (40% of the energy mix), is not very adaptable. “It is an energy of regularity, for a constant and stable requirement, but which does not go well with consumption peaks as in winter. Faced with these sudden increases, you need energy that adapts very quickly ”, continues the professor.

Exorbitant prices, global demand, poorly adapted energy, the winter therefore risks being harsh if Russian gas does not knock on our doors. “It will also depend on the temperatures. The colder it gets, the more our abilities will be undermined “, says Carine Sebi. To make it this winter you will therefore have to rely partly … on the luck of the weather.

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