Energy Poverty

19 October 2021 - Published by Deirdre Buist
As prices for gas and electricity soar sky high, the latest energy crisis is directly impacting a significant number of homes across Europe. Energy bills continue to rise – the Netherlands calculate possibly to as much as 900 to1000 euro per home in the coming year. Energy poverty has become an even greater threat and public awareness has amplified. As a focal theme within Stronghouse, partners previously held an in-depth transnational exchange on this subject.

Dual aspect of energy poverty

During the Stronghouse Energy Poverty Work Session last July, partners discussed the term  itself  in relation to both social welfare and sustainability. Energy renovation is mostly seen as a sustainability issue and not directly as a poverty one.  Recognizing this dual aspect prompted a clearer definition of our target groups and it was agreed that the focus must not be purely on technical implementation but also on the broader potential of energy renovations for certain groups in society.

Understanding dynamics & diversity

Following an outline of the challenges and opportunities as experienced in Drenthe, participants were enlightened by a presentation on ‘The Characteristics of Intergenerational Poverty’ by Dr. Sanne Visser who’s research is focused on the former Peat Colonies of Groningen and Drenthe (Veenkoloniën), an historically disadvantaged rural environment. An improved understanding of the dynamics and diversity of poverty and lower income groups will improve support when dealing with the subject of energy poverty and how to address these households.

Flemish approach

Stronghouse colleagues from IGEMO and Roeselare were joined by Ghent (Icarrus project) in presenting the Flemish approach. Accessibility to energy renovation options is more than just a question of finance. To understand the barriers, IGEMO, Ghent and Roeselare worked with Stronghouse tools to create Persona’s and a Customer Journey. This helped to define and recognize two target groups:

  • Captive Owners (inferior house, no budget for renovation/improvement)

  • Captive Renters (rent from an inadequate landlord/owner, no means for improvement/renovation).

Moreover, there is an impossible landscape of bonusses and loan schemes for homeowners but these rarely filter down to the right people. There is also a variety of financial incentives that  focusses on this target group, including interest-free renovation credit, the EPC Label Bonus (with extra’s for low-income households) and the Flemish Energy Loan.

Lessons learned

Other learnings distilled and shared with regards to tackling energy poverty:

  • Goals to qualifying for financial support must be attainable.
  • Pre-financing is not enough for the poorest households they cannot pay it back.
  • Go further than financial support.
  • Cooperate with social organizations that people know and trust
  • Use clear and easy language. ‘Energy saving’ is not a valid argument for poor households’
  • There are more technical challenges and higher costs than anticipated.
  • Houses should remain affordable after renovation by the owner. Beware of gentrification.

A complex challenge

Energy Poverty is complex. During this Stronghouse session research, policy, persona’s, social welfare and loan schemes all passed the review. The partners want to share these practices with other regions and see what can be translated to local situations.

One suggestion was to develop a short course about energy renovation for social workers and a course on social work for energy advisors. Here Ghent has relevant experience with training social and technical counsellors.

Emergency measures

The latest news from a Dutch perspective is a government announcement introducing emergency measures to combat the most negative effects of rising prices - a one-year fuel tax relief scheme as a once-off compensation. Politicians now recognize the challenge, discussed in depth during the Stronghouse meeting, in ensuring such measures reach those most hit by the rising fuel costs; the lower income groups in badly insulated houses. Therefore, an extra 150 million euro is also being set aside for the municipalities so they can stimulate homeowners on a local level to insulate their homes.

Considering current affairs and the ever-rising energy prices, awareness for this issue has certainly intensified. A follow-up international exchange is high on the Stronghouse agenda.

Read  detailed notes on the Stronghouse Energy Poverty Work Session