Europe’s museums prepare for winter with energy-saving measures

In the face of the global energy crisis, museums and cultural heritage sites across Europe have been looking for new ways to cut down on their energy bills. Most recently, the French government have announced that the Louvre in Paris will be turning of the lights in their iconic glass pyramid two hours early, at 11pm instead of 1am.

Completed in 1988, the Louvre Pyramid was designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei, and serves as the main entrance to the museum. The decision to turn the lights out early comes in the face of soaring energy prices across Europe, and French culture minister Rima Abdul Malak has stated the importance of this sort of “symbolic” gesture as a means of “raising public awareness and embolising citizens.”

The limitation of hours in which the pyramid is lit follows similar decisions taken in France, such as the reduction of hours in which the 20,000 bulbs of the Eiffel Tower are illuminated. Jean- François Martins, the head of management for the Eiffel Tower informed The Guardian that “it’s a highly symbolic gesture, part of the growing awareness around energy sobriety.” The lights of the Château de Versailles will also be turned out an hour earlier.

Other French cultural institutions have taken different steps to reduce energy costs. The Musée d’Orsay in Paris has, according to Malak, “reduced its energy consumption by a third just by changing bulbs and switching to LED”.

Museums in the UK are also speculating on how best to save money on energy this winter. According to Sharon Heal, the Director of the Museums Association, “many museums up and down the UK have pledged to open their doors as warm, safe spaces for their communities over the winter”, as “museums are ideal places to provide this service; they are free or low cost, have the facilities and amenities that the public need and of course have amazing collections that can keep people engaged for hours”. However, many museums have suggested that they may need to limit their opening hours over the winter months. In recent years, some museums such as Tate and Ikon in Birmingham have switched to energy-efficient LED lighting, and Ikon has gone further, introducing motion sensors, efficient air handling unit motors and upgraded boilers in an attempt to save money. Matt Hogan, Head of Operations at Ikon, has also suggested that museum expenditure on climate control for collections care should also be addressed. Hogan explained that, “galleries, often without a collection of their own, which occasionally loan works are running climate control 24/7 just in case the big lenders ask them for the data for future loans, even if there’s nothing in the gallery that needs this control. It’s a huge waste of energy”.

It remains to be seen how the energy crisis will play out this winter, but the significant steps taken by museums such as the Louvre shows the extent of the problem these institutions are facing, especially given the toll the Covid-19 pandemic has taken on them.

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