Politics

No refrigerators in office, work from home, closing school premises. Slovakia considers potential energy savings during winter

As winter is coming and energy prices are soaring, Slovakia is considering various ways to save energy in its administration.

Coffee break office
Public administration workers in Slovakia may face restrictions for electrical appliances in offices to save energy during winter | Illustration, Mad Fish Digital

European countries are working on mitigating the consequences of higher energy prices and lower gas supply from Russia, and Slovakia’s Ministry of Environment has been considering several areas where the administration could save energy.

In a working document that Dennik N made public, the Ministry of Environment laid out some proposals that started to be discussed between ministers on September 21.

Measures may go from simple guidelines to more impactful and disruptive ones. Analysts proposed for instance to equip buildings with sensory lighting and LED light bulbs to save electricity, but also measures more controversial like closing schools on Fridays.

Similar to what other countries will try to implement, temperatures in public buildings could be reduced to 20 degrees Celsius (68F) maximum in offices. Corridors and stairwells would have two degrees less. Heating in buildings may also start at a later date than usual.

In France, discussions rather revolve around a temperature of 19ºC, while Paris’s public buildings temperature will be gradually set down to 18ºC during the days and 12°C at night. In Berlin, the temperature in public buildings will be lowered to 19ºC, and 17ºC in corridors and stairwells. In Hungary, a decree restricted heating to 18ºC maximum inside public buildings.

And like in France, exterior lighting of historical monuments in Slovakia could stop earlier at night, while Berlin switches them off completely.

Some more savings could be made by ordering employees to work from home on Mondays and/or Fridays and on holiday periods. According to analysts, remote working measures could save up to 20 percent of energy. They would be the largest potential saving measures so far, according to the minister of Labor Milan Krajniak.

But workers in offices may not only see a decrease in temperature. They might also get no hot water anymore and have electrical appliances not related to work performance such as refrigerators and microwaves removed. Berlin already switched off hot water supply in public buildings, except to the showers and wash rooms of sports facilities.

In Slovakia’s capital Bratislava, day temperatures barely go above 5ºC (41F) between December and February.

According to Zuzana Eliášová, spokeswoman for the Department of Interior, informative material for actions like preventing unjustified ventilation and lowering water temperature would be distributed to employees.

Schools and hospitals will be prioritized

Changes proposed by the Ministry of Environment might also affect schools and education buildings. The draft solutions include closing schools on Fridays and extending Christmas holidays by another two weeks to avoid heating classrooms.

These ideas came few days after the academic sector has expressed concerns that surging electricity costs would threaten universities and schools from operating.

The Slovak Rectors’ Conference, one of the three bodies representing universities in Slovakia, in a declaration published on September 13 and supported by several other trade unions and education representatives declared that “universities are on the verge of collapse”. It warned that universities would close doors from mid-November on if they keep getting budget cuts and don’t get more funds to pay energy bills.

But Prime Minister Eduard Heger the day after reacted that the government would make education and healthcare facilities a priority for heating public buildings this winter and recommended rectors not to panic in light of the energy crisis. “Do you think we will let pupils and students freeze in schools? Do you think we will let patients freeze in hospitals? There is no way,he declared.

In Hungary, some public buildings like schools, healthcare, social protection, nursery facilities – and also the Hungarian National Bank according to Telex – are not bound by the decree to the same temperature restrictions. Elementary schools will nevertheless need to be at 20ºC.

Slovakia’s Prime Minister asked schools to provide accurate information on their annual electricity consumption to calculate consequences on budgets.

He had also assured schools would not be closed because of high energy prices and rejected the idea that remote learning would take place again as during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early September, the prime minister signed in Rome a contract on liquefied natural gas supply from Italy to reduce its dependency on Russian gas.

But a lot of Slovakia’s measures will depend on the discussions between European Union members, especially around common price caps. The new minister of Economy Karel Hirman considered that capping energy prices is one of the basic mechanisms to make prices “at a tolerable level that everyone will be able to afford”. The government also plans to provide energy checks for modest families.

And in case there is no agreement at the EU level, the government approved a bill that would make a state of emergency easier to declare, so that the country may apply its own price cap on energy.

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