After three years of hard work in tackling energy poverty, Horizon 2020 funded project ASSIST is approaching its end. It has built a successful model to support consumers in need, which can be taken up by different public and private actors working in various sectors – from energy to social, from banking to health, from non-profit associations to private companies.
ASSIST offers a two-way approach to energy poverty: active engagement of consumers in the energy market, and a positive change of behaviour in relation to energy consumption able to influence the design of policies at all levels.
The ASSIST model is based on the figure of Household Energy Advisor (HEA) and a 3-step process: training – networking – action. The HEA is a professional already working on the ground, able to provide support to people, not exclusively in the energy sector. They have the necessary competencies and knowledge on the matter to provide first-hand answers to all energy poverty-related questions and needs: from non-paid bills to contract changes, from requests for financial help to the use of efficient appliances.
The ASSIST Team trained around 100 HEAs per participating country (Belgium, Finland, Italy, Poland, Spain, and UK). They came from different working contexts, became members of their national ASSIST HEA network, and carried out soft actions and ASSIST actions to inform and provide direct advice to consumers. The project created the training resources for the HEAs empowerment as well as the resources and tools to adequately address energy-poor and vulnerable consumers (such as videos and factsheets).
ASSIST also monitored HEAs' actions and evaluated its impact. To do so, they used various indicators such as the number of trained HEAs, the number of active HEAs in the field, or the number of vulnerable/poor consumers reached. The impact of the HEAs was not only measured in terms of energy efficiency and financial savings. Taking into account only those indicators can be problematic, especially as people in deep energy poverty are under-consuming due to not being able to afford the bill. Because of that, there was an additional focus on measuring the impact in terms of vulnerability, quality of life, and energy savings.
The main results of ASSIST are:
- More than 100 trained HEAs per country,
- 50% of the HEAs active in assisting consumers in need,
- More than 10.000 consumers reached per country through soft actions of the HEAs (newsletters, mailshots, social media, etc.)
- About 750 consumers reached per country through ASSIST on the ground activities (energy cafè, home visits, helpdesk, bill audit, etc.)
- Between 2% and 5% household energy saved (electricity and gas) by the consumers assisted by the HEAs ,
- Between 0.5 to 2 increased VEF – Vulnerability Empowerment Factor: indicator created by ASSIST to measure increase of empowerment of vulnerable consumers (from + 3 to -3)
- Increased comfort level and decreased energy expenses.
ASSIST has also collected insights on the best ways to approach and address energy poor/vulnerable consumers and to deliver actions in the field to support them. Based on a detailed analysis, ASSIST was able to tailor its actions to the specific needs and characteristics of each target group. For example, an energy cafè proved to be the ideal format to assist a small group of householders (condominium) on their energy consumption, while a helpdesk worked best when discussing financial needs, and a virtual helpdesk (either via social media or email) is great when handling numerous general questions.
The group of HEAs that worked in the ASSIST project had a varied background, and through the project, it was clear that the most active ones were those coming from the social sector. This might be because they were already in contact with consumers in need and therefore in a better position to understand and gain their trust when discussing their situation in terms of energy needs, level of satisfaction with the services and financial concerns. While HEAs coming from more technical sectors faced an initial barrier of identifying and then dialoguing with vulnerable/poor consumers.