Warm homes for all
When we think about energy challenges, the focus is generally on how to produce energy more sustainably. However, one aspect has been overlooked in Europe over the past years. A significant part of the European population - more than 50 million households - cannot afford to have decently warm homes. This situation, called energy poverty, can be presented as the result of three main factors: high energy costs, inefficient homes and low household incomes. It impacts physical health, mental health, wellbeing and even social inclusion. Consequences reach far: health (7 000 avoidable deaths linked with cold homes every year in the UK alone), social development (poverty and isolation), sustainability (carbon consumption and air quality) and economy (available income, costs to national budgets).
As municipalities are eager to ensure good living standards for everyone, it becomes increasingly important to tackle the root-causes of energy poverty. Two main options exist: improvements to properties - that can range from small devices such as draft stoppers to energy retrofits of the entire house - or financial support to help pay the energy bills.
In the EU, buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy consumption because of their low efficiency. For that reason, energy retrofits of buildings are a more sustainable option than plain financial support when it comes to tackling energy poverty in the long run. That’s why the EU-funded project Climate Active Neighbourhoods, led by Climate Alliance, focuses on energy retrofits of residential buildings in deprived neighbourhoods. In five countries of North-West Europe, local authorities, non-profit organisations and energy agencies are working together to respond to the needs of vulnerable people living in energy poverty and strengthen climate protection at the neighbourhood level.
In the structurally weak districts of Essen (Germany) new incentives and support for energy efficiency investments are created for house owners in order to improve the living conditions of tenants. Plymouth (England) offers in-home assessments detailing the measures and behaviour change people can implement in order to see an energy consumption reduction. The city offers free simple measures such as LED lights, heating controls, and draft proofing as a method of engagement. The face-to-face approach in Liège (Belgium) informs house owners about energy-saving potentials, possible improvement measures and funding possibilities. In Brest (France), participating in the project amplifies local actions against energy poverty and extends them to a broader scale: home-visits focusing on energy efficiency and energy awareness sessions within the neighbourhoods are taking place, reaching hundreds of people. Moreover, the city made an important step towards tackling energy poverty by hosting the International Conference on Energy Poverty in Europe in June 2018.
These local initiatives are very promising and the European Union has decided to take a more global approach to tackle this issue. However for now, situations are extremely different depending on the country. Do you know what your town or country is doing to fight energy poverty?