Utilities (Electricity, Gas, Water)
Water quality: nationwide results of water quality tests. Government site.
The French electricity grid follows the norm in the European Union: 230V 50 Hz (cycles).
French electricity boards in households have a feature I have not encountered in other countries: a circuit-breaker that is activated if you exceed your rated maximum consumption as it appears on your electricity bills. Its tolerance for peak consumption over the limit is quite limited. If you are not aware of this, you may think there is a fault in some of your equipment that has triggered the differential circuit-breaker, which is there (or should be there - do yourself the favour of checking that before you get electrocuted by one of the outdated French electricity installations - it should say 30 mA and "differentiel" on it) for safety. The maximum power circuit-breaker has nothing to do with safety. It is there to assure you pay for a subscription that corresponds to your peak consumption. It has a small window that tells you how many amperes it is set to. If it says 30, for example, your maximum power rating is 30 x 230 = 6900 W, or 6.9 kW (in a three-phase installation, I believe it is the setting per phase, so in the case of 30 A, the maximum power rating for the three phases would be 30 x 230 x 3 = 20700 W, or 20.7 kW). A major part of French electricity bills is the subscription. The higher the maximum power rating, the more costly the subscription. In a three-phase installation, it is more difficult to balance the power consumption, as it doesn't help to have 30 A available on phase 1 if the equipment you need is plugged into phase 3. If your max power circuit breaker goes off, you may need to call EDF and ask them to increase your max power rating. A technician will have to visit you. There is a fee close to 50 euros for that, so consider carefully now much you need to increase the power to avoid having to pay again to increase it a second time. On the other hand, if you increase it too much, you'll pay over the odds in subscription.
After opening the gas and electricity market to competition in 2007, EDF and GDF, the former state monopoly companies, remain vastly dominating on the market. They still propose regulated rates (rates defined by law) in addition to their more expensive free-market rates. Even though you can save 10% on your consumption with Direct Energie and 8% with Poweo, the French have remained sceptical and clung to their regulated EDF or GDF rates. As a defender of a free market, I left EDF for Direct Energie in 2004 when the market was opened for businesses. I left Direct Energie in 2009 to try Poweo but got so fed up with them after just a few months that I returned to the regulated EDF rates. If the French don't throw themselves in the arms of new free market companies, it is not because the French adore the state and state-regulated companies but because they know from bitter experience that such free-market companies have a nasty tendency to treat their clients as milking cows by adding fees, hidden or not, that didn't exist before and by introducing aggressive marketing and customer service methods. Better the devil you know. After my own experiences, I admit that the French scepticism is justified.
There are many problems with the new arrivals: Incompetent customer service; no follow-up on orders; no follow-up on payments, meaning they keep sending you reminders for invoices already paid a long time ago, asking you to send proof you've paid; no follow-up on messages to customer service; bogus sales methods tricking EDF customers into signing up with the competition, using sales people who pretend to be from EDF; instant fees in case of just a minor late payment; hidden or illegal fees; fees added to the invoice "by mistake" and without any explanation what it's for, such as a fee that was initially claimed to be for changing a circuit breaker that hadn't been touched, but the description didn't appear on the invoice; aggressive methods in case of even a slightly late payment. Just to mention a few of the problems with Direct Energie and Poweo. For low-income families who are entitled to a special reduction of electricity prices, known as électricité sociale, the social reduction simply doesn't work with anybody else than EDF even though the law does not limit the scope to EDF. There is a catch if you leave the regulated EDF or GDF rate: Except for a grace period until mid-2010, you cannot return to the regulated rate once you have left it for the free market. What the consumer association UFC Que Choisir fear is that if the regulated rate is undermined, it may eventually be scrapped, and energy prices could skyrocket. France's electricity prices are presently among the lowest in Europe. If everything goes well, you can indeed save up to 10% on your consumption in the short term (but not on any other fees or the monthly subscription), but there are so many problems with the free market that I agree with UFC Que Choisir in recommending to stick to the regulated rates from EDF and GDF.
Whoever you choose, watch out for another scam across the board which is to push you into the heures creuses subscription that gives you a reduced price of 0.0734 euros per kWh during a few hours a day instead of the standard rate of 0.1125 euros (regulated rates). At what time of the day the low-cost hours are placed depends on your region. In some regions, it is a few hours in the middle of the night, meaning that it is difficult to benefit from the cheap hours unless you don't mind doing all your laundry and dishwashing at 3 AM. It is difficult to find out when these cheap hours have been placed, as the electricity companies try to keep that information to themselves so you can't figure out how to benefit from the lower price. The cheap hours come at a price. For a 18 kW installation, for example, the cheap hours subscription is 9.27 euros more expensive per month than the standard subscription, and the electricity consumption is more expensive outside the cheap hours (0.1154 euro per kWh) than if you didn't take the cheap hours option (0.1125 euro per kWh). If you use for example 15,000 kWh a year at full rate, it costs you 3.63 euros more per month with the cheap rate option in addition to the 9.27 euros increased subscription, or 12.90 euros per month extra in total. In this example, you need to use 330 kWh per month during the cheap hours just to compensate for the 12.90 euros a month. The difference is lower for installations with a lower power rating than 18 kW. If your heating is electric, you may find the cheap hours option better for you, but in many other cases, you may well find that the cheap hours option is more expensive. Do the maths yourself instead of letting the electricity company push you into an option that is more expensive for you and better for them.
Another scam is making you pay more for 'green' energy to save the environment. The vast majority of French electricity, around 80%, is nuclear and does not contribute to global warming or atmospheric pollution. The many old dams produce renewable energy and have done so for decades. Construction costs have been paid a long time ago and the electricity they produce is cheap. The trick is to manipulate the environmentally conscious consumer into paying even more for this cheap electricity that already existed and which in any case will produce the same amount of electricity no matter how much you pay for it. Your green money only serves to inflate the profits of these companies.
Warning against pompe à chaleur (heat pump)
EDF may be promising you all sorts of savings and improvements if only you agree to let them sell you a pompe à chaleur (heat pump) system. DON'T! Read on the Survive France forum how an expat was screwed several times over by EDF: broken promises, electricity supply cut off, a system that was installed totally wrong by a third company that then went bust. It's a true horror story.
CRE (Commission de Régulation de l'Énergie). The energy regulator.
If it goes wrong
Médiateur national de l'énergie (Energy Ombudsman).
EDF. The former state
Electricity only. Recommended for electricity.
(the numbers indicate the départements
where they are)
Electric Plugs and Voltage, Mains
Electric plugs are not harmonised in the EU. Plug adapters for the most commonly occurring foreign plugs (typically the UK and the USA) are available in DIY stores in France and specialist stores, the latter also selling transformers and converters for voltage step-up or step-down. You will find a good choice on Amazon too. Travellers would be best advised to buy an adapter in their own country to avoid the trouble of searching once in France, unless local plugs are compatible with French plugs.
230 volts AC 50 Hz (cycles) is the standard in the EU. Electric equipment should normally have a safety margin of +/- 10% to allow for variations in the power supply, so equipment rated between approximately 210 volts and 250 volts should work. A bigger problem than the plugs is that 110 volt equipment cannot be used without a transformer. Check not only the voltage rating for your equipment before using it, but also the cycles supported (typically 50 Hz or 60 Hz or both). Some equipment may work with either; other may not. Check the rating for your equipment before plugging it in. Before using 230 volts bulbs in lamps that were meant for 110 volts, make sure they are safety approved for 230 volts. Both bayonet and screw bulbs are sold in France.
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