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ENERGY

What you need to know about planned power cuts in France this winter

The French government continues to insist that power cuts are very unlikely this winter. Nevertheless, there is an emergency plan in place, so here's what it says about power cuts, from length and frequency to warning times.

What you need to know about planned power cuts in France this winter
Electric pylons near an electric power station in the countryside of Saint-Laurent-de-Terregatte, western France (Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP)

Power outages in France during the winter of 2022-2023 are still unlikely, and President Emmanuel Macron has urged people “not to panic.” However, they are still a “real possibility” and if you would like to be prepared for potential power cuts, here is what you should know:

When and how will I know if there’s going to be a power outage?

You can continue scanning the situation using the website and application Ecowatt.

READ MORE: ‘Ecowatt’: How to use France’s new energy forecasting website and app

You will be able to see an ‘energy forecast’ for the following three days – which will put your local area into the category of Green (no strains in the grid), Orange (the grid is strained, consider decreasing energy consumption), or Red (the grid is very strained, power cuts will be inevitable without a decrease in consumption).

If EcoWatt goes red, the first step will be asking businesses to make voluntary decreases, so for example factories could go onto a three-day week.

If this still doesn’t work, then targeted power cuts may be necessary – but these will be limited in time and area and planned in advance.

The government says that power cuts will last for no longer than two hours and will be done on a commune basis – so there will never be a situation where a whole département will be blacked out, far less the entire country.

So how do I know if my area will be affected?

If Ecowatt is red, keep checking it – at 3pm each day it will be updated with any areas that face power cuts the following day.

At 3pm you will be able to see whether your département will be impacted and at 5pm you will be able to check your individual address to see if you are in a ‘load shedding’ zone (délestage in French) – the technical term for a planned outage.

You can set up alerts by SMS and email on both the application and website.

And of course there will be extensive media coverage (including on The Local) of planned cuts. 

How long would the rolling blackout last?

French government authorities have specified that power outages would not occur for more than two hours at a time.

They would occur either in the morning (between the hours of 8am and 1pm) or in the evening between the hours of 6pm and 8pm and would not affect crucial buildings such as hospitals. 

If you are impacted by a power outage on one day, you can rest assured you will not be in a “load shedding area” the following day, power bosses will vary the areas for targeted cuts and no area will have two consecutive days of cuts.

What are the things that might be impacted in the event of a power cut?

There are several every-day items that could be shut off during a power outage that you might need to be aware of; 

READ MORE: OPINION: France faces the real possibility of power cuts this winter and it can’t blame Putin

ATMs and Contactless Payment – If you are in an area that will be impacted by power outages, consider taking out cash the day before. During the power outage, you may not be able to access an ATM or use a credit/ debit card to pay, depending on whether the card reader is fully charged. 

Elevators and digicodes – if you live in an apartment block then both your lift and the electronic door codes will not work. Your building might block access to elevators during the rolling blackout. If you know you will be in an area where power is cut, you might want to consider postponing your heavy shopping trip or furniture delivery to the following day.

Digicodes and access badges also will not work without electricity. However, that does not mean you will be locked out or trapped inside, as the electricity is only used to keep the door locked. 

Shops closed – While supermarkets with generators will be able to remain open, you can expect some smaller shops to be closed during power outages.

Public transport – This will depend on where you live in France, though you can expect some services to be interrupted. Local authorities have been tasked with coming up with their own response plans in the event of power cuts. The French government has asked local authorities to err on the side of caution, in order to avoid the possibility of passengers finding themselves stranded in the middle of a track. As for the Paris Metro system, this will not be affected by power outages. Government spokesperson Olivier Véran told BFMTV on Friday that it runs on “its own electricity network.” You can expect more detailed information in the coming weeks.

Schools – While this has not yet been confirmed, the French government is reportedly working alongside the Ministry of Education to develop plans to close schools in the mornings if the area is to be impacted by rolling blackouts. This would be to protect students and teachers from having to be in the building without access to heating, alarm systems or lighting. Schools would be open again in the afternoons, as power cuts are not set to take place between 1pm and 6pm. 

Phone and internet service – During a power cut, there could be interruptions in telecommunications (both for mobile and landline devices). If you have an emergency, you should still dial 112. As this phone number is accessible regardless of the telephone operating company or line, there is still a chance it will be covered by at least one operator in the area. Call centres for the fire department and the police will continue to function. 

Traffic lights – Like other illuminated traffic signs, these are powered by electricity. It is therefore possible that they will be out of service during power cuts, so consider avoiding driving during a power outage.

Charging devices – If you learn that your area will be impacted by a power outage, consider charging any devices you might need during the day the night before. Keep in mind though that the power cut will only last two hours.

Hot water – If your water is heated electrically, it likely will not be available during a power outage. It would therefore be advised to plan around the two hour power cut for your hot water needs.

Refrigerators and freezers – There is no need to panic here – the power would only be off for two hours, so your food ought to remain protected, as refrigerators can keep cold up to four to six hours after the power shuts off. As for freezers, they can keep their temperature for 24 to 48 hours.

And what won’t be affected?

Priority sites such as hospitals, prisons, police stations, fire stations, critical factories and other emergency services will not experience power cuts.

If your power line also services a priority site, then you will be spared from blackouts. For this reason, people living in urban areas are less likely to be impacted by power cuts than people living in rural areas. As for Paris specifically, the city is so dense and is connected to so many priority sites that only about 20 percent of the Parisian territory could be impacted by power cuts. 

Current estimates show that about 60 percent of the French population could be impacted by power cuts – the remaining 40 percent are either connected to a priority line or are part of the 3,800 “high-risk patients” who are dependent on home medical equipment.

Member comments

  1. be prudent as they can be a power surge when electric power returns. This can damage the likes of live boxes, fixed phones, fridges and anything connected to the power sockets. The answer is to buy very effective ” multiprise parafoudre et surtension” which will protect most appliances

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For members

LIVING IN FRANCE

Reader question: Can I set up a doorbell camera on my French property?

Thanks to France's strict privacy laws, setting up a doorbell camera might be more complicated than you would have expected.

Reader question: Can I set up a doorbell camera on my French property?

In France, privacy is not only a privilege, it is a right – the phrase “everybody has the right to privacy” is enshrined in Article 9 of the French Civil Code.

READ MORE: CCTV, drones and online cookies: How France’s strict privacy rules work

Privacy rules affect many aspects of life in France, including installing a doorbell camera on your French property.

In brief, French law does allow you to have cameras set up in and around your home, but there are several privacy related rules and regulations you will have to respect – for example, private individuals cannot film public spaces or neighbours’ homes or doors.

The public domain includes the street, pavement and any communal areas in front of your house, including hallways if you are in an a shared building.

As such, those living in apartments or condominiums would likely not be able to install a doorbell camera without accidentally filming the ‘public space’ or their neighbour’s private property.

People living in single-family homes need to be careful about the way the camera is pointed to only film within their own property – meaning inside your home, apartment, garden, driveway or on a private access road if you have one.

If you employ anyone on your property, then you are legally obliged to inform them of the presence of a camera and you cannot film them “permanently”.

In certain circumstances, you may also be required to conduct a “data protection impact analysis (DPA)” before setting up surveillance cameras.

READ MORE: Can I set up a security camera on my French property?

What happens if I film the public space?

A violation of Article 9 can be punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to €45,000.

If your neighbour believes that your camera is filming either them or their property, then they can contact the police or lodge a complaint with the French data protection agency, CNIL. 

What if I want to deter burglars?

If you want a deterrent at your door, but you cannot set up a camera without filming your neighbours, then you might consider adding a plaque or sign on your door warning that there is a surveillance system inside.

What about cameras in my apartment building?

It is possible for the building to set up a surveillance system in public spaces. However, the copropriété must agree via a vote of the general assembly of co-owners. If installed, there must be signage or panels that inform inhabitants of the presence of CCTV cameras.

These cameras cannot film the doors of apartments, balconies, terraces or windows. 

They are meant to protect common areas, including the parking garage, entrance halls, courtyards or elevators.

Who can be filmed?

Even though you have the right to film within your own property, you cannot film just anyone that comes into your house. If you employ anyone on your property – like a cleaner, nanny or gardener – then you must inform them of the existence of the security cameras and the purpose of the filming.

Filming workers on your property without their awareness can be considered a crime and also result in fines and/or prison time.

France’s data protection body, CNIL, recommends that you include mention of security cameras in any employment contracts with people working on your property. According to CNIL, you must also post a notice (for example, a sign or flyer) so that employees know when they are entering an area that is being filmed.

You also cannot film workers on your property ‘in permanence’ – this means you do not have the right to continuously film your staff during the full exercise of their duties. 

According to French law, employers have the right to monitor their employees, but this cannot intrude on the employee’s right to privacy. This means that employers cannot film bathrooms, for instance.

In very select cases, if your cameras are capable of identifying people, you may need to contact CNIL to conduct a “data protection impact analysis (DPA)” before setting up surveillance cameras. This is occasionally required when filming employees, and you can learn more HERE.

What if I am using a surveillance company?

CNIL advises that you carefully read the contract to ensure that the company does not store your images for more than one month (as prescribed by GDPR rules).

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