Louvre pyramid darkens early as European museums step up plans to cut energy costs
In addition to the Eiffel Tower turning off its twinkling lights earlier each evening, the Louvre pyramid and other landmarks across Europe are responding to the current energy crisis with a variety of measures ranging from the symbolic to the practical.
This week, French Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak told France 2 that the Louvre’s iconic glass pyramid would no longer be lit after 11 p.m. The Palace of Versailles was next, she said, with lights off at 10 p.m., a usual earlier hour—starting next week.
These measures, admittedly “symbolic”, said Abdul Malak, “are also important for raising public awareness and mobilizing citizens”.
Across Europe, fears of facing the coming winter, amid soaring energy costs and possible blackouts, have prompted governments to call for tight, unified efforts to reduce the energy consumption. Some also offer spending caps on electricity and gas bills, as was the case announced on Wednesday in the UK.
Cultural institutions and monuments have been chosen as focal points for implementing these new energy-saving tactics, as they struggle to cope with soaring energy costs. Some are even consider closing their doors to the public, at least some of the time.
“We welcome the six-month energy price cap [announced by the UK government today]which should help museums get through the winter period in the short term,” said Sharon Heal, director of the Museums Association, representing 1,800 UK institutions, in a message to Artnet News. “However, this is only a temporary fix and will not solve the systemic underfunding of the sector over the past decade.”
Heal notes that although some British cities suggest that museums serve as “warm banks” or shelter from the cold, this may be less feasible because “some establishments are considering reducing opening hours or closing sites if anticipated price increases materialize.
“Many museums across the UK are committed to opening their doors as warm and safe spaces for their communities over winter,” Heal added, as they are “ideal places to provide this service… But in order for us to do that, we have to be able to keep the doors open.
In Germany this week, state and federal leaders from the cultural sector came together to highlight the importance of cultural institutions in the collective “social understanding of self” and to ensure they are supported during the current crisis. .
The group, which includes German Culture Minister Claudia Roth, identified institutions that are part of so-called “critical infrastructure” or “cultural assets of great importance for cultural heritage”, to be prioritized with support in gas emergency. In addition, funds initially earmarked for cultural events will be used to mitigate rapidly rising energy costs in targeted cases.
“Only together, with all our expertise and strength, can we meet the great challenges [ahead]German Culture Minister Claudia Roth said in a statement after the meeting.
As it tries to wean itself off its heavy dependence on Russian gas, Germany is leading the charge in terms of drastic reductions in its gas consumption, by around 21% since last year. Some analysts say this level of collective effort could prevent Europe’s largest economy from running out of gas in the near future. This month, a new German law came into force to ensure that this happens.
The measure limits the heating of public buildings to a maximum of 19°C (66.2°F), while rooms and passageways must remain unheated. The initiative also prohibits monuments from being illuminated at night, except for emergencies and special events. Meanwhile, the umbrella group of German museums, Deutsche Museumsbund, has amassed a list practical and energy-saving advice for arts institutions.
This summer, the French government also called for “sobriety” measures to reduce energy consumption by 10% by 2024. As with their German neighbours, temperatures in rooms under public jurisdiction must be kept at a maximum 19°C in winter, and no less. over 26°C (78.8°F) with air conditioning in summer. Abdul Malak said she had sent out a questionnaire to cultural venues across the country asking for “proposals and suggestions for the management…of the energy crisis”, with her ministry releasing its final analysis later this month.
Some museums are already setting an example. The Musée d’Orsay and the Orangerie in Paris told Artnet News that they had reduced their energy consumption by 15% in the first eight months of this year, compared to 2021. These results were mainly achieved by gradually changing the lighting of all museums to LED. bulbs. “The main energy costs in a museum like Orsay are related to lighting and maintaining constant climatic conditions in line with international conservation standards,” said a museum representative.
In 2023, the museum’s energy bill is expected to climb to 12% of its total budget, or more than $3 million, compared to 5% of the 2022 budget. “Our ambition is to reduce our energy consumption by 25% by 2024, thanks to significant investments dedicated to the continued installation of LEDs and the modernization of technical equipment controls,” the museum added.
The Orsay and other historical monuments, however, clarify that they were not originally designed to serve as museums, which makes them less energy efficient. L’Orsay, a former station, will therefore propose “significant renovations”.
The same is true in the UK. “Many museums are housed in historic buildings. They are not energy efficient and are expensive to run, heat and maintain,” Heal said. “Over the medium term, we need investments to help museums become more energy efficient and environmentally responsible, so that we can reduce our carbon footprint and create a sustainable future for our organizations and communities. And we need long-term strategic investments that address the problems caused by underfunding. The Association of Museums found that between 2010 and 2020, local government spending on museums and galleries fell by 27% in real terms.
The more modern Center Pompidou was designed as a museum and has steadily reduced its energy consumption over the years. In response to the current crisis, the museum has indicated that it will turn off the lights on its facade as soon as it closes to the public at 10:30 p.m. Only security lighting will remain on, while “other measures are being considered,” a museum spokesperson told Artnet News, noting that renovations planned after the 2024 Olympics will allow a 40% reduction in energy.
The museum’s program is added to others such as the Bourse de Commerce, Collection Pinault, to address environmental issues this fall.
The Louvre is also doing its part. In addition to turning off his light pyramid at 11 p.m. instead of 1 a.m., he set himself a 10% energy reduction target in 2019, to be achieved over a period of 5 years. And in 2021, the museum said it had reduced its energy by 17% compared to 2018, to 74,500 mW.
“In total,” a Louvre spokesperson told Artnet News, “this represents 1,160 tons of CO2 emissions less per year, or the equivalent of 10,000 Paris-Marseille journeys by car.”
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