How can we reduce our individual energy consumption?

There are no miracle cures that alone would drastically reduce our consumption. But a set of simple gestures, based on the principle of the small streams that make the big rivers, can lead to substantial savings. The most important thing today is to buy “smart” when renewing appliances or vehicles, because this contributes to a lasting improvement in the efficiency of our energy system.

Simple energy-saving gestures fall into three categories. Firstly, the many small actions that we can do, day to day, almost mechanically: turning off the light and the computer screen when going out, putting a lid on pots and pans, not letting the water run when soaping ourselves in the shower or brushing our teeth, etc. Each of these individual actions saves very little energy. But multiplied by a population of 8 million people, they end up representing significant amounts.

Then there are the regular daily gestures, which are also simple, but which require thoughtful decisions before they can become, one day perhaps, habits: putting on a sweater rather than turning up the heating, taking a shower rather than a bath, thinking about re-inflating your car tyres, or opting for cycling or public transport instead of the car whenever possible. These actions can significantly reduce individual consumption, but they are not very popular because they require a certain amount of effort and sometimes cause us to compromise on comfort.

All of these individual actions alone are unlikely to drastically reduce our consumption. But they are not in vain, and certainly deserve encouragement. They also result in a reduction in household energy bills, an aspect that will become increasingly important with the expected increase in energy prices. These actions also help to raise awareness in a concrete way and to train the sensitivity of the new generations.

Thirdly, consumers can make “smart” or “responsible” purchases. For example, when it comes to buying everyday consumer goods, such as food, preferring local and seasonal products significantly reduces consumption linked to transport and greenhouse cultivation. One kilogram of fresh strawberries in winter can require up to 5 litres of fossil fuel to reach our shelves.

Above all, consumers can give preference to new equipment that consumes less energy. When we replace a lamp, a household appliance, a set of tyres or a car, we are faced with a wide variety of products and models that are roughly equivalent in terms of services rendered, but very different in terms of energy consumption. Tough federal regulations (e.g. the ban on the sale of incandescent light bulbs since 2013) sometimes prevent us from buying the worst. But it does not force us to buy the best. However, the energy performance of products that are still allowed to be sold can vary considerably; a good appliance or an efficient car consumes on average between 30 and 50% less energy than a standard basic appliance or a fuel-guzzling car [→ Q41]. The website provides very useful information about the best in each product category.

Improved energy efficiency of equipment and vehicles represents a huge potential for savings: around 16 TWh per year for electricity (i.e. 2/3 of the production of our nuclear fleet!), and 26 TWh for fuel. However, in the absence of incentives (or even obligations), only the goodwill of consumers will make it possible for the moment to exploit this potential. For example, by buying low-energy light bulbs or fuel-efficient cars, which saves much more energy than turning off a low-efficiency light bulb when leaving the room, or taking a bicycle once a week instead of an SUV.

Any action aimed at saving energy with inefficient appliances, while laudable and to be encouraged, has an anecdotal impact compared to their replacement by modern, much more efficient appliances. It is therefore mainly through the purchase of more efficient products that we will be able to make a real difference, because the replacement of old equipment is gradually moving our energy system in the right direction. For property owners, energy retrofits are one of the most significant measures [→ Q30]. But we are moving beyond “simple actions”.


Agence de l'environnement et de la maîtrise de l'énergie en France (ADEME) (2010)
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Topten (2019)
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