Why the Louvre’s Mona Lisa Keeps a Smile: Paris’s Cooling System

The Mona Lisa he can keep his famous enigmatic smile because he benefits from one of Paris’ best-kept secrets: an underground refrigeration system that has helped the Louvre cope with the sweltering heat that has broken temperature records across Europe.

The little-known “urban cold” network meanders unsuspectingly under the feet of Parisians at depths of up to 98 feet (30 meters), pumping ice-cold water through 55 miles (89 kilometers) of labyrinthine pipes, which is used for cooling the air. at more than 700 sites. The system, which uses electricity generated from renewable sources, is the largest in Europe and works 24 hours a day with a deafening noise totally inaudible on the surface.

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The Paris City Council has now signed an ambitious contract to triple the size of the network by 2042 to 252 kilometers (157 miles). I’d make it the urban major refrigeration system in the world. The new contract is intended to help the city adapt and combat the threat of global warming. Many parts of Europe reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in July.

The city will extend the refrigeration network to hospitals, schools and subway stations over the next two decades. It is not clear how much of the system will be operational when the Paris Olympics are held in 2024, but it is possible that the systems will be used at various Olympic sites.

mona lisa, mona lisa louvre, louvre cooling system A worker inspects machines in part of the underground cooling system at Fraicheur de Paris, in Paris. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

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Without the knowledge of millions of tourists, the pipeline currently cools the most emblematic places in the City of Light, such as the Port and the Quai Branly Museum. It could even help calm agitated lawmakers, as it is used to cool down the National Assembly.

The scheme is operated by the Fraicheur de Paris joint venture, 85% owned by French state energy company EDF and the rest by public transport operator RATP. Company officials tout its benefits to all French capital.

“If all (Parisian) buildings are equipped with autonomous installations (such as air conditioning), a very significant urban ‘heat island’ effect will gradually be created,” said Maggie Schelfhaut of Fraicheur de Paris, referring to the increase in heat in the cities. for less vegetation, which refreshes, and more urban infrastructure, which absorbs the sun’s rays.

But Schelfhaut said the pipe network could make all of Paris one degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) cooler than if autonomous installations were installed throughout the city.

“One degree less in the center of the city is a lot,” he added.

mona lisa, mona lisa louvre, louvre cooling system The Louvre museum benefits from one of Paris’ best kept secrets, an underground cooling system that has helped the Louvre cope with the sweltering heat that has broken temperature records across Europe. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

Three of the 10 high-tech chill sites sit on the River Seine and are accessed by a retractable spiral staircase barely visible from street level, in something of a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” lair. .

When the water in the Seine is cold enough, a machine captures it and uses it to cool the water in the system. The heat created as a by-product is returned to the Seine, where it is absorbed. The chilled water is then pumped through the system’s pipes to its 730 Parisian customers.

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All the cooling sites in Paris use renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels. The construction of four new solar energy sites that will feed this network is also planned. French officials see this energy independence as particularly important given the threat that Russia will cut off power to Europe.

Russian energy corporation Gazprom on Wednesday reduced the amount of natural gas flowing through a major pipeline from Russia to Europe to 20% of its capacity. European nations are scrambling to find alternatives amid fears that Russia could completely cut exports of gas, which is used for industry, generating electricity and cooling homes, to try to gain political leverage over the bloc.

louvre mona lisa, louvre paris underground cooling system A map of the operating sites for Fraicheur de Paris, an underground cooling system in Paris. Powered entirely by electricity generated from renewable energy, it is the largest in Europe and goes unnoticed on the surface. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

The advantages of using a refrigeration system that uses renewable energy to operate are already being felt at the sites that use them. The world’s most-visited museum, the Louvre, has benefited from the network since the 1990s, with officials proud of its ecological, economic, and art conservation benefits.

“It allows us to benefit from energy with a lower carbon footprint available throughout the year,” said Laurent Le Guedart, Director of Heritage at the Louvre. “The particularity of the Louvre Museum is that it needs ice water to properly preserve the work of art and to control humidity.”

The Louvre doesn’t use air conditioning, and officials say the cooling also earns them much-needed floor space in the sprawling but cramped former palace, home to 550,000 works of art.

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Le Guedart said the system is a money saver given the increased cost of energy linked to the Ukraine conflict. It operates in particular in the State Room of the Pavillon Denon where the Mona Lisa lives. Perhaps that is why beads of sweat have never run down the forehead painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

“The Louvre’s energy bill is around 10 million euros per year in 2021. We are trying to control this bill as much as possible, amid the obvious fluctuations and increases in energy costs,” Le Guedart said.

The system could save you millions by cushioning the shock as Russia continues to shake up the energy market.

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