THIS month sees the Fête de l'Energie, aimed at familiarising people with the nationwide network of Espaces Info Energie.
These help property owners make choices related to energy-saving in the home: financial aid, heating, insulation, and renewable energies.
The Espaces are the public face of Ademe, the Agence De l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Energie (Agency for Environment and Energy Management) which was founded 20 years ago.
With a budget of nearly €800 million, it helps put in place environmental policies by advising business, local authorities and individuals. It also helps finance projects in areas like waste management, air quality and energy efficiency.
For the public, Ademe provides a wealth of information on its website www.ecocitoyens.ademe.fr and, since 2001, through its 240 Espaces Info Energie. Find yours here:
Louis Fasanino, an advisor at a branch at Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Lot-et-Garonne, said: "During the Fête de l'Energie we will organise visits so people can see how renewable energies and energy-saving can work.
"For example, we will see a house that has been renovated to make it more economical and another home being built using eco-friendly construction methods. We will also have a stand at the Foire Expo de Villeneuve-sur-Lot and a film and debate at Montsempron-Libos."
Mr Fasanino said each Espace Info Energie is hosted by a not-for-profit body such as a local council, consumer body or CAUE (bodies promoting quality local architecture). They are funded by Ademe in partnership with councils, especially the regional ones.
"We are open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday to drop in and Wednesday and Friday by appointment," he said.
"However, the hours vary according to where the office is hosted. Here we are in a CPIE [environmental protection body]."
Mr Fasanino said they could also advise small businesses. "However, we are a first port of call, we can't go out to premises."
Typical customer queries depend on the latest trends, he said. "At one point the government was offering incentives to get solar photovoltaic panels and a lot of companies were marketing themselves, so we had questions about whether it was worth investing in.
"We also get many questions about heating – when someone wants to change an oil-fired boiler they want to know about other solutions like wood and heat pumps; and also
"We can explain how systems work, which would be more economical than another; we can even do a little computer analysis of the person's house. We can look at what they've got at the moment and say ‘if you install such and such you will save so much per year'."
He said they cannot comment on specific firms, but a good starting point is the site www.qualit-enr.org which lists businesses with recognised quality standards.
While the Espaces Info Energie can advise on financial help available, he said a better port of call for that would be your local Adil, part of a network of advice centres on accommodation – see www.anil.org/votreadil/ which has legal advisors who can help put projects together.
Most people are concerned about the environment but visit primarily to find out how they can save money, Mr Fasanino said. "For example, when you do the sums you see it's better to have a wood-burning boiler than an oil one. Also, if you have to choose, it's better to insulate than to invest in a super-efficient heating system. As energy costs keep going up it's better not to consume any with good insulation, then you're not at the mercy of rises."
When it comes to the Espaces, the idea is to have as many as possible close to where people live, said the head of advice to the public at Ademe, Florence Clément.
"There is plenty of interest in going greener, especially as energy prices have been shooting up and a lot of people are still dependent on fossil fuels for heating and hot water and so are looking for alternatives.
"What's more, now all house adverts must show the energy efficiency evaluation, that's a new incentive – if you put a house up for sale with a very poor one, it's obviously not going to sell as well.
"There are also financial incentives from the government – such as the green tax credits or the interest-free eco-loan – which have come in over the last few years, which have also very much encouraged people to take the plunge.
"The Fête de l'Energie will be a fun way to find out more – to learn, for example, what a bioclimatic house looks like [one that makes optimum use of its environment]."
Ms Clément said a common mistake was to start work that was not the best value-for-money. "People will decide to change their windows when they have a badly-insulated roof that lets a lot of heat through, and solving that would cost much less. They are misled because they walk round their rooms and feel cold and assume the warmth is going through the windows.
"That's one of the roles of the Espaces – to say what is essential to avoid people making mistakes."
She added that many Espaces have staff who speak some English but, however, a good level could not be guaranteed.
Ms Clément said business people were encouraged to contact one of the 26 Ademe regional head offices directly. "They come, for example, because they have a business idea and they want to know how to do it in a way that saves energy. If Ademe thinks it's interesting they will offer advice and sometimes even finance part of their project."
It could, for example be a company in the food industry that needs to use a lot of energy drying cereals or for cold-storage of foods, she said.
Which projects pay off the best?
ONE of the key pieces of advice from Ademe is that it is a lot easier to cut energy loss than to cut the cost of providing the energy.
So, insulation is top of the list of projects it suggests that homeowners look at to get the greatest "bang for their buck", especially as heating accounts for two-thirds of energy use in the home.
Research has shown 25% to 30% of heat loss from homes goes out through the roof - so loft insulation can potentially cut energy losses by one-third.
Couple that with wall insulation - which accounts for 20%-25% of losses - and two relatively cheap jobs have slashed energy waste and made the house warmer.
While windows account for energy losses of 10%-15% double glazing does not give the return of the previous two jobs.