[11.12.23] Focus on… the Dutch Energiebox programme and tool

What? Energy Box is a programme and tool created in The Netherlands (and focus in the ENPOR project), to reduce energy costs of households by introducing energy-saving measures. The particularity of the box? Easy to implement, they come in a physical “Box” as well as with personal advice on energy-saving practices, mostly centred on behavioural change. When participating in the programme, households could choose between 3 different boxes including various items – products in high demand such as light sockets with on/off switches, LED lights, and radiator foils-. The Energy Box was offered to private tenants in three similar flats in one of the city’s neighbourhoods using a different set of promotional activities.

The Energy Box was established in 2014 by de Jonge Milieu Adviesbureau (JMA), the municipality of Utrecht, the tenant organisation “De Bundeling” and the social housing associations Mitros, Bo-Ex, SSH, Groenwest and Portaal. The Energy Box project is a social enterprise, that was set up with a triple purpose: first to reduce the energy consumption of residents, second to fight (energy) poverty and third to provide jobs for the (long-term) unemployed.

The Energy Box consists of a consultation with an energy coach, an advisory report, and a box with energy-saving products. During the consultation, an energy coach explains how to use the energy-saving products and discusses the residents’ energy consumption. Based on the consultation, the energy coach provides the residents with energy-saving advice in a report tailored to the resident’s situation. The advice can be implemented by the residents without big investments or costs, making it possible for the residents to save money on their energy bill and increase their living comfort without renovations or investments. Residents receive a box with energy-saving products aimed at improving energy-conscious behaviour at home. Initially, the Energybox measure of JMA consisted of a standard procedure as follow in the figure below. 

Most often, the households targeted are defined at neighbourhood or even street or building level, in the case of direct cooperation with a social or private housing corporation. The decision on which neighbourhoods, streets or buildings to target, is based on a combination of factors, including the state of the property (energy labels), last moment of renovation and type of residents. Often the Energy Box scheme is part of a larger package of measures to improve energy conditions in a building, street or neighbourhood. Over the last few years, both on the side of Energy Box and at municipalities, attention has grown to specifically target households at risk of energy poverty. To assist Energy Box and the involved parties in choice making, as part of the ENPOR project, we have developed a prototype tool to predict energy poverty risks at neighbourhood level. In practice, the tool turned out to be complex and time-consuming to use, so we have not developed it further. But tools like the TNO map of Energy Poverty in the Netherlands can help in this regard.

The results of the Energy Box speak for themselves:

>> in 2021, 19,000 residents were reached and in April 2023 this number has grown to almost 45,000 residents.

>> Until now more than 5 million Euros are saved per year by households using the Energy Box.

>> The average savings per household after a visit of a coach is about 257 kWh of electricity and 100 natural gas m3 each year.

The results are continuously updated and can be found on the website of Energy Box.

Originally, on average only 1 out of 10 households targeted applied for an Energy Box, although differences existed between neighbourhoods. Thus, conversion rates were not very high.

Experiments with different means of communication (flyers, doorhangers, multilingual e-mail and letters) (as also tested as part of the ENPOR project) and, for example, door-to-door visits by energy coaches, have shown however that conversation rates can be raised to 50%.

Also, the research conducted within ENPOR has shown that different target groups, such as students or people with a migrant background, need different communication strategies.

This awareness has grown a lot amongst the parties involved and is now always part of discussions when setting up a new campaign.

The Energy Box scheme is always carried out at a local level, in close cooperation with local stakeholders. Because of the need to address certain target groups with specific means, the knowledge of locals concerning the type of residents in a neighbourhood is vital. Also, the Energy Box must be low-key and accessible, so working with local energy coaches is also very important. However, at national level the value of these types of support schemes to households at risk of energy poverty has grown a lot. Thus, the Dutch government has intensively raised financial means to support municipalities in making use of energy coaches, energy fix teams and other initiatives to combat energy poverty.

In the ENPOR project the policy was further developed in collaboration with JMA into multiple directions.

  • Energy Box with Choice: provides flexibility and choice for tenants, with the option for the energy coach to offer additional materials or products during visits to meet tenant needs.
  • Energy Box with Extra Visit: includes an extra visit from the energy coach after 8 weeks to support behavior maintenance and assist with measure implementation if needed.
  • Energy Box with Practical Help: energy coach not only provides advice but also installs energy-saving products if the tenant requires assistance.
  • Energy Box for Language Barriers: materials translated into multiple languages to reach tenants with migrant backgrounds.
  • Energy Box via Social Network: promotion through existing social networks and local events, such as food bank distributions and community gatherings.
  • Energy Box with Cargo Bike: utilizing a cargo bike for promotion, complemented by door-to-door visits and posters for a comprehensive approach.
  • Energy Box for Students: tailored door-to-door visits and advice for (private) student housing, along with customized box materials.
  • Energyvoucher: residents in Zeist received a €75 voucher for spending at local DIY stores, serving as an alternative approach to the Energy Box method for comparison.

Advertisement from Energy Box published in local newspapers et al., created for the municipality of Ridderkerk.

A front of doorhanger developed for energy coaches to be distributed at door-to-door visits, followed by the back of the doorhanger, with a small energy saving test to trigger awareness.  

A poster from Energy Box, created for the municipality of Utrecht in Dutch.

Two examples of multi-language communication: a poster developed by Energybox Amsterdam in Arabic, and another in Turkish.

Three examples of multi-language communication: a flyer developed by Energybox Amsterdam in Dutch, Turkish, and Arabic.

The final infographics designed for EnergyBox to be used by energy coaches as a visual aid to support their energy advice talks, in multiple languages.