As the saying goes, if the French didn't exit, we'd have to invent them: A nation that reveres Jerry Lewis, builds cars with single-spoke steering wheels or names like Kangoo BeBop ZE, and threatens to blow up factories if strike demands aren't met (and then changes its mind).

The latest evidence of Gallic gallantry? A decision punishing a startup company that invented a device letting consumers cut energy use. A decision, in fact, that actually requires it to pay power producers the full price of the energy they would otherwise have sold.

The company is Voltalis, which has now installed its device in about 5,000 French homes. The control unit lets Voltalis temporarily turn off electric appliances, like heaters and air-conditioners, when demand for grid power nears a peak.

Such technologies are part of the evolution to a "smart grid" that offers differential pricing, lets consumers know what they're paying for, adapts to changes in consumption, and otherwise uses information technology to improve efficiency.

Via the "distributed load-shedding" offered by Voltalis, consumers save up to 10 percent of their electric bill, and overall energy use falls. It works so well that RTE, the operator of France's grid, pays Voltalis to run the service--and expects to roll it out to tens of thousands of new homes.

Except that the state energy regulatory commission has ordered Voltalis to compensate every power producer, including the giant Electricité de France (EDF), for all the power they didn't get to sell. EDF, by the way, just proposed a 20-percent rate hike.

Both media and green groups have gone to town. The French anti-nuclear group  Sortir du Nucléaire called the ruling "an absurd decision" and nothing less than "organized racketeering". Now the government, which at first supported its commission, is backing down and reportedly wants to compromise.

Ah, the French. To honor their unique path through energy policy (it is, remember, the only country in the world that generates almost 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy)--and to tie this back somehow to green cars--we offer a photo of the radical, almost indescribable French automotive creation known as the 1955 Citroën DS. It's the one with the single-spoke steering wheel, by the way.

Citroen DS

Citroen DS

[Times Online via CleanMPG Forum, Earth2Tech, and others; Nuclear photo by Flickr user Andrea Kirkby]