[07.04.22] ENPOR lunch talk takeaways and recording – Tailored Measures for Energy Poverty

Energy advice for consumers with few resources, but the right way. This was our central theme in the light of the energy crisis at our latest Lunch Talk with the STEP Project partners.

In this episode:

Our guests on behalf of STEP are Eoin Kelly, from The European Consumer Organisation, Paulo Fonseca, Portuguese Association for Consumer Protection), Bogomil Nikolov, Bulgarian Consumer Organisation and Petra Cakovska, SOS (Slovak Consumer Organisation). Altan Sahin from the Austrian Energy Agency and Marek Muiste from the Estonian Tartu Regional Energy Agency joined to talk about their respective ENPOR Regional Energy Action Groups.

  • Paulo talked about how Portugal deals with the situation currently unfolding and his experiences on the national policy landscape changing for energy poverty. He also briefly introduced DECO’s energy advisory desks following the example of one-stop-shops.
  • In Austria several policy changes are currently in the making. Altan talked about how the energy crisis impacts energy poor households in a private rental situation and why tailored communication actions are needed instead of classic energy advice.
  • Petra introduced us the Slovakian situation. It takes years and a lot of money for the state/municipalities to transition to renewable energy that is expected to ease the heavy burden of fossil energy dependency affordability. Petra briefly introduced the energy ombudsman idea in place in Slovakia.
  • Marek explored Estonia’s key strategy to fight energy poverty especially in the private rented sector: energy efficient renovation and retrofitting.
  • Bogomil’s organisation reached a community that, according to the experience of other countries is very hard to reach in terms of energy poverty.

STEP is now coming to an end with their final event on the afternoon of 18 May. The main takeaway of this Lunch talk was: together we can bring change.

More takeways

Perspectives from Portugal with Paulo Fonseca

Paulo explained how Portugal is directly affected by Russian gas and the current war making national gas prices deeply impacted just as regulated tariffs are increasing for consumers, taking into consideration that the energy bill is the highest bill in Portugal and amounts to 23% of spendings from one’s income, there are on-going negotiations with the EU to lower it down to 13%.

However, Mr Fonseca underlined that the Resilience and Recovery Plan still makes it difficult to invest in retrofitting one’s house. Most programmes target consumers that are homeowners and not renters, out of 4 million households, 1 million are renters, the rental market cannot benefit from these programmes. It is important to note that there are no energy poverty measures targeted at renters, and no regulations meaning the responsibility is left for landlords to choose when to retrofit.  New laws have tried and change the rental market but only benefit extremely vulnerable households could benefit from them, which would not be enough. 

Perspective from our REACT Group in Austria with Altan Sahin

Altan explained that the current situation in Austria is becoming even more difficult for energy poor households who now have to spend 20% of their income on energy bills due to the increase in energy bills that has doubled in Austria from the current energy crisis.

There are measures in Austria but they lack implementation. For instance, the Climate Bonus provides 100 to 200 euros per person + a CO2 tax to one person per household, Mr Sahin underlined that this measure does not create an incentive for energy savings or efficiency and lacks additional support.

Furthermore, the following the REACT Group development in Austria, the team felt the need for a stronger communication approach to be able to target and better discuss with vulnerable households, to support and empower them. There is a need to focus on behavioural changes to adapt communication between energy advisors and vulnerable households. Therefore, energy advisers were provided new materials that focused more on visuals to ease the understanding of tasks as language can be a barrier when discussing energy savings.

Perspectives from Slovakia with Petra Cakovska

In terms of energy prices, Petra explained that there was a13% of increase as Slovakia has been deeply impacted from the pandemic and Russian war and are trying to end their dependence on Russian gas. 

Slovakia does have a definition for energy poverty but is now 7 years old and has not had an impact and would need to be reviewed. There are also no specific financial structures for energy poor households to renovate. There is a very limited access to clean energy for all types of households, the process is still very complicated and long, there are a lot of market barriers included, for instance, subsidies for solar panels and heat pumps are gone quickly and not easily accessible for vulnerable households as everything is online and very limited in numbers, the role of prosumers is very important and should be pushed forward, underlining that collaboration is essential to five better access to renewable energy.

S.O.S’s social tariff for low-income households covers 100% of renovation costs with energy efficient measures and inclusion of renewable systems. The tariff has been very successful, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection has stopped state support for polluting heating support subsidies.  It is important to know that cooperation between State and NGOs is very new in Slovakia, but the direct experience from the field and advice centres has real value and will help make a case to increase protection and enforcement of consumer rights on the energy market.

Perspectives from Estonia with Marek Muiste

From Estonia’s REACT Group, Marek explained that renovation and retrofitting are the key measures to reduce energy poverty, the challenges of alleviating energy poverty are not just financial but also structural.

For instance, renovation in Estonia is considered as a collective action, it is always decided by the owner and financed by them which raises the question of responsibility in the renovation process.  The question of affordability is also key as living costs should not increase, since the performance and indoor quality should be better.

Perspectives from Bulgaria with Bogomil Nikolov

Bogomil’s organisation reached a community that, according to the experience of other countries is very hard to reach in terms of energy poverty, as there is a real lack of targeted energy poverty policies, and the lack of definition is a real challenge.

He underlined how important it is to reach vulnerable communities. With this challenge,  BNAAC aimed at spreading knowledge with the Roma community and enabled workshops by visiting compact areas where nothing had been implemented in the last 30 years in Sofia in terms of energy efficiency and social housing. 

Perspectives from the STEP Project with Eoin Kelly

When talking about the STEP Project, Eoin Kelly explained that giving advice to consumers through training workshops and face to face interactions where the main objectives to tackle energy poverty.

There was a real challenge during the Covid-19 epidemic and restrictions to meet in person which made them have to adapt and focus on online communication though social media and YouTube tutorials. However, most vulnerable households do not have an easy internet access, and do not go on social media, there was a real digital gap and vulnerable households could be difficult to reach. The STEP Project provided online presentations included slides on energy savings, energy efficiency tariffs, national energy markets and systems for the 9 countries involved on the project (find out more here).