[21.03.22] Blog- STEP: Consumer Organisations at the Forefront of the Energy Crisis

Posted on March 21, 2022 – Written by Eoin Kelly, Energy Policy Officer at BEUC

The EU-funded Horizon2020 project Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty (STEP) has been running across nine European countries for almost three years, and project partners have worked to tackle energy poverty from as many angles as possible.

At the core of this project is one-to-one advice provided by consumer organisations to people in or at risk of energy poverty. This consumer advice is provided via phone calls, face-to-face meetings, and via dedicated workshops for vulnerable consumers and frontline workers.

However, running a project that relies on face-to-face interactions during a global pandemic has not come without challenges. As such, partners refocused some of their attention on promoting their online training modules, available in nine languages, for which users who finish the course can receive a certificate. Partners also made great use of their YouTube energy tips videos, an initiative of UK STEP partner Citizens Advice, which have since been translated into several other languages.

Project partners have also been involved in a myriad of regional projects to tackle energy poverty needs specific to their national context. Bulgarian partner BNAAC ran studies and workshops with the Roma community in Sofia, while Portuguese partner DECO has worked hand in hand with local authorities to establish energy advice desks that replicate one-stop-shops, which will have a crucial role in unlocking the Renovation Wave across Europe.  Meanwhile, Slovakian partner SOS was instrumental in setting up a dedicated energy ombudsman service for consumers in Slovakia, to name only a handful of examples.

The private rented sector remains an area of frustration for most project partners. While in some cases energy-saving devices have been provided along with energy advice, the split incentives between tenants and landlords continue to act as a barrier to deep energy retrofits and alleviation of energy poverty. Beyond split incentives, the high upfront costs of renovations, as well as governance rules around renovation of multi-unit buildings highlight that there is a lot that still needs to be tackled through national regulatory frameworks – though a recent change in Spanish property law has shown that with the right ambition, such barriers can be remedied.

Finally, STEP partners have made sure that their voices have been heard during the ongoing energy crisis, and were buoyed to see that a lot of their asks – from a temporary ban on disconnections, to lowering of energy tax rates – were taken up in the European Commission’s toolbox for Member States.  Despite this action, there is obviously still a long way to go on energy poverty.

One of the themes the STEP partners aim to communicate is that energy poverty should be seen as an energy issue, not simply viewed through a social lens; with the right legislation, such as the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, meaningful changes can be made that improve the quality of the European building stock, help to hit Europe’s climate targets, and eradicate energy poverty all at the same time.

For more information on the STEP project, visit www.stepenergy.eu

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