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How to save money on your energy bills in France

Gas prices in France have increased by 44 percent since January 2020 and electricity is also set to become more expensive. Here are our tips for cutting down on costs as we head into the colder months.

How to save money on your energy bills in France
Switching electricity provider could save you money. Photo: GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP.

Gas and electricity bills have been rising in France as prices increase.

According to a report from the French National Energy Poverty Observatory published earlier this year, 18 percent of households faced difficulties paying their energy bills in 2020, and rising prices linked to global markets are likely to make the situation even worse.

As temperatures begin to grow colder, here are a few ways you could reduce your energy bills.

Shop around

The CRE sets the regulated prices of electricity, which are regularly updated, and this is the price you’ll pay if you go with EDF’s “Tarif Bleu”.

But since the energy market was opened up to competition in 2007, you may be able to save money by choosing a different type of contract, or by switching to another provider altogether. If you do choose a competitor, you can either pay a fixed price, which won’t change over a period of between one and three years, or a price that is indexed to the regulated tariff, meaning it will evolve at the same rate.

READ ALSO France’s one-off €100 energy grant for low-income households

The same principle applies to gas: Engie’s regulated prices are set by the CRE and can change every month, but you also have the option of taking out a subscription at a fixed or indexed market price, with Engie or any other provider.

It’s important however to make sure you read the fine print when taking out a contract. As consumer group UFC-Que Choisir warns, if a company promises a 10 percent or more price reduction, this usually “concerns only the pre-tax kilowatt-hour (kWh) price. The subscription is charged at the same price as the regulated tariff.”

UFC-Que Choisir’s simulator allows you to compare prices between different energy providers to see whether you would be better off with the regulated tariff or following market prices.

Pay attention to the clock

Even if you choose to go with the regulated electricity prices, you could still save money by subscribing to the “off-peak option”, which means paying less when you use appliances during eight set hours in the day, but paying more the rest of the time. Those hours could cover the whole night, or some of them may be placed in the middle of the day, depending on your town.

If you go with this option, there are a few things you can do to make sure it’s worth your while. Large appliances like washing machines can be programmed to come on at night or during the day, and this is also the best time to charge your devices, as long as they stop charging once full. You can also check that your boiler is set to come on during off-peak hours.

You might be surprised by the results: according to EDF’s “Blue tariff”, the standard price is €15.58 to €16.05 per kWh, but you would pay €13.06 off peak and €18.21 during peak times if you use this calculation method.

If on the other hand you are working from home more often due to the pandemic, you could find that your peak-hour electricity use has shot up and you are better off switching to a regular contract.

Don’t leave appliances on standby

Appliances like your TV, microwave and coffee machine use less electricity on standby than they once did, but turning these machines off completely could still shave 10 percent off your bill, before counting heating costs, according to the French Agency for ecological transition (Ademe).

Using a multi-socket adapter with a switch will make it easier to get into the habit of turning off several appliances at once. This includes your internet router: according to Ademe, a router that’s on 24/7 can consume more than 200 kWh per year, as much as a washing machine.

READ ALSO France to bring in new environmental rules on log burners and open fires

Choose your appliances carefully

When it comes time to replace your washing machine, or invest in a new TV for example, you could make significant savings by picking the right model. More energy-efficient appliances might mean spending more money to begin with, but over the life cycle of the machines this could save you up to €3,000 in electricity, according to Ademe.

An energy-efficient fridge-freezer will consume 125 kWh per year, compared to 245 kWh for a less efficient machine. The savings are even more stark for tumble dryers – 170 kWh instead of 560 kWh.

For most appliances, the energy rating goes from A to G, with A being the most efficient. New European rules introduced on March 1st got rid of the A+ to A+++ ratings for most types of appliance, meaning the A is much harder to achieve, and “most energy efficient products currently on the market will typically now be labelled as ‘B’, ‘C’ or ‘D’.”

“Every difference in category represents 15 to 20 percent energy savings,” writes Ademe.

Image: European Commission

Cut down on heating

Opening the windows in the morning to ventilate the house, even in the winter, will make your home less humid, meaning it requires less energy to heat.

At night, if your windows have shutters as well as curtains, close them both to keep out the cold air, and when it gets really cold you may also want to close the shutters when you leave the house.

READ ALSO How to access France’s €20k property renovation grants

You can also invest in a programmable thermostat which can be set to come on at particular times in the day, and will automatically adjust to changes in temperature. The thermostat itself will cost €60 to €250, and you could receive a €150 grant to cover up to half of the installation costs. According to Ademe, the investment could save you up to 15 percent in heating costs.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to save energy every day, including replacing your halogen lights with LED bulbs, using the “Eco” programme on your washing machine, and setting your water heater to between 55C and 60C.

Check whether you are eligible for help

Depending on your income levels, you may also be able to get help from the government towards your energy bills. Around 5.8 million households benefit from the chèques énergie (energy checks) scheme, an annual payment of between €48 and €277 which helps low-income households with their gas and electricity bills. You don’t need to do anything – the check should be sent out automatically based on your annual tax declaration. You can find out whether you qualify here.

This year, in response to rising energy prices, the government announced it would send out an additional €100 to households which already qualify for the energy checks. This should also arrive automatically via the post some time in December.

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Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%?

The French government has capped electricity prices rises at four percent - but as with many French rules, there are certain exceptions.

Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%?

Question: I read in the media that electricity prices in France are capped at four percent, but I just got a letter from EDF telling me that my bill is going up by almost 20 percent – is this a mistake?

The French government’s bouclier tarifaire (tariff shield), froze gas prices at 2021 levels and capped electricity price hikes to four percent – it remain in place until at least the end of 2022.

However, there are some customers who will see increases to their bills of more than that – here’s why: 

The regulated tariff rate

The French government involvement in price-setting doesn’t just happen during periods of energy crisis, normally regulated tariff prices are updated twice a year: usually on February 1st and August 1st.

Typically, this value is calculated by the CRE (commission de régulation de l’énergie) and it is based on several different factors, which are explained on this government website. These tariffs proposed by the CRE are then subject to approval by the ministers in charge of energy and the economy.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

These affect the state-owned Engie (formerly Gaz de France), the mostly state-owned EDF and some local distribution companies. Around 70 percent of people in France get their electricity from EDF but other suppliers do exist in the market.

These alternative suppliers, like Direct-Énergie, Total Spring or Antargaz, are free to charge more – but don’t usually charge much above the EDF rates for obvious commercial reasons.

Basic rate

The government-set limit in price rises refers only to the basic rate (option base) for electricity.

This plan represents over 80 percent of the 32 million households connected to the electricity grid in France. So, there is a good chance you might be subscribed to this without even realising it. 

If you are on the basic tariff rate, your bill will not increase by more than four percent this year.

Other tariff options

However, other options for electricity bills do exist, including off-peak rates, green deals and fixed energy prices for a certain period.

Typically people who sign up for these will have been paying less for their electricity in the preceding months than those on the base rate.

However, there are certain special deals that are not covered by the four percent cap, and some users will find that their deal period has come to an end, they are then shifted onto the base rate – which is likely to represent a price increase for them of more than four percent.

It’s little consolation when faced with rising bills, but you will likely have been paying significantly less than customers who have been in the base rate for the past few years.

READ MORE: French government to continue energy price freeze until at least 2023

Kilowatt price

Because most electricity price plans are bafflingly complicated, the easiest way to compare is to look at the price per kilowatt-hour.

Your electricity bill consists of a fixed part, the monthly subscription (abonnement) and the variable part, which depends on the quantity of electricity consumed (in euro per kilowatt-hour, kWh). The latter part is what is concerned by the tariff shield of four percent.

Here is an example of what that might look like:

The mid-August base rate price per kilowatt-hour is €0.1740/ kWh, so if you’re with EDF they cannot charge you more than this rate.

Other EDF plans charge significantly less than that – for example the Vert Electrique Weekend deal has been charging €0.1080/kWh on weekends and €0.1434/kWh on weekdays. 

Bill rises

With the tariff shield, the average resident customer on the base rate will see a €38 rise on their bill this year, while professional customers will see an average of €60 rise. 

Without the tariff shield, electricity prices per residential (non-business) customer would likely have increased an average of €330 a year, according to the CRE.