Without any night light, will France save energy or fall asleep?

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As of 12 July 2013, and applicable to all buildings that are used for professional activities, the lights will need to be switched off after working hours.

On 25 January 2013 the French government enacted a new decree (the Decree) that implements new restrictions as to night lighting of non-residential buildings, in order to reduce the amount of energy consumed in France, and of light pollution. The Decree follows the French Regulation n°2012-118—dated 30 January 2012—implementing the law on illuminated-billboard advertising (the Regulation).

This administrative legislation has been adopted as part of the government's objective to regulate energy consumption.

Pursuant to the Regulation—which has been in force since 12 July 2012—illuminated-billboard advertising is prohibited in the cities of less than 10,000 residents that are not part of an urban unit of more than 100,000 residents; businesses are obliged to turn-off the lighting of the adverts and signs between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. if they are closed during this period in cities of less than 800,000 residents; the Regulation provides however that businesses shall be exempt from the above obligations if they are open between midnight and 7 a.m. In this case, such businesses are only allowed to turn on the illuminated adverts and signs one hour prior to opening, and to keep these illuminated adverts and signs on until one hour after they close. In addition, the Regulation has delegated power to local authorities to decide their own local policy in cities of more than 800,000 residents.

Rather than creating uproar in France—as might have been anticipated—the entry into force of the Regulation grabbed almost imperceptible public attention.

In the same manner, the Decree drew little public reaction; the draft of the Decree was made available to the public for consultation until 20 September 2012 and the government estimates that there was no real opposition to this new regulation. Since the Decree’s enactment, there has been no evident public attention given to it, despite the increasing level of limitations implemented by the Regulation. For example, the Decree is not only going to further limit the use of illuminated advertising but will limit the night-time use of lighting in all non-residential buildings. As the Decree is only planned to enter into force on 12 July 2013, one can expect some reaction from business managers in the near future.

On some finer points, the Decree, composed of seven articles, is applicable to the use of night lighting in and on non-residential buildings, building facades and shop windows. In its objective to reduce energy consumption, it is currently estimated that the implementation of the Decree will enable the saving of 2 TWh every year, which corresponds to the annual energy consumption of 750,000 households.

The Decree provides that shop-window lighting must not be turned on prior to 7 a.m.; or for more than one hour prior to opening; and will have to be turned off by 1 a.m. or within one hour following the end of the occupation of the premises.

The Decree also provides that lighting of building facades must not be turned on before sunset and shall need to be turned off by 1 a.m. The reference to “sunset” is particularly unclear and uncertain, as this timing will change seasonally.

Finally, pursuant to article 2 of the Decree, the interior lighting of "premises used for professional activities" will need to be switched off within one hour following the end of the occupation of the premises.

If this provision is to be strictly interpreted, the wording of "premises used for professional activities" will only refer to freehold premises used for professional activities and premises leased under a professional lease, where the use of this Decree will be extremely limited in the amount of office premises to which it shall apply. This interpretation therefore seems to go against governmental policy to reduce energy consumption and light pollution.

The non-compliance with the Decree will be sanctioned by a fine, the amount of which is still under discussion. The nature and extent of the control over compliance with the Decree raises concerns, as public authorities could enter into a very deep level of control.

The French government is working on this matter and will have to find the right balance between control of energy consumption and freedom.