EU Science Hub

Energy poverty through the lens of EU research and innovation projects

Over 50 million people in the EU experienced energy poverty in 2018
Over 50 million people in the EU experienced energy poverty in 2018
Jan 30 2020

Over 50 million people in the EU experienced energy poverty in 2018. Energy poverty means that households are unable to afford essential energy services needed to guarantee a decent standard of living. 

A new report by the JRC shows that the issue is much more complex than simply aiming at energy and cost savings.

Various approaches to tackle energy poverty

The extent and seriousness of the problem have attracted significant attention, and the EU has been funding research and innovation projects to test the effectiveness of various approaches to fight energy poverty.

The JRC experts analysed 31 EU-funded research and innovation projects in 30 European countries (EU28 + Norway, Serbia and North-Macedonia). They grouped projects into four categories, according to their scope:

  1. Digital technologies projects, where information and communications technology (ICT) is used to reduce energy consumption in households at risk of energy poverty, mainly living in social housing complexes. These projects showed that smart metering, for example, can lead to lower energy bills. However, the effectiveness of the tested ICT solutions depends on a variety of technical, geographical, social and cultural factors. A lack of experience in handling technology or low literacy rates, for example, limit energy-saving opportunities.
     
  2. Behavioural change projects, consisting of tailored advice to encourage behavioural change through home visits of an energy adviser or ambassador. One of the challenges in these projects is to recruit and engage vulnerable consumers, mainly because of their uneasiness about acknowledging their disadvantages.
     
  3. Financing projects, which address the legal and financial barriers to improve existing buildings with energy efficient equipment, the so-called energy retrofit. However, renovating a building is often not enough to reduce residents’ energy consumption, as savings strongly depend on the occupant’s behaviour. One of the challenges is engaging residents in refurbishment works.
     
  4. Sharing of best practices projects aim to identify and promote tailored solutions to address technological, social and financial barriers hindering energy retrofit of social housing in Europe. Some project outputs mentioned the need to limit eventual rent increases resulting from investment in the energy retrofit of the building. In situations of high-energy poverty, higher rents could mean that retrofit does not lead to a reduction in energy poverty.

Conclusions and recommendations

The study provides recommendations for future research initiatives and pilot projects. The main considerations that emerge from the study are:

  • Need for more projects specifically focussed on the needs of vulnerable consumers and on the wider societal aspects of energy poverty. The projects surveyed focus primarily on reducing energy consumption for energy and climate targets, and reducing energy poverty is often just a collateral objective.
     
  • Wider geographical coverage at EU level. There is currently an uneven geographical distribution of projects and investment, both among and within EU countries.  Organisations active in energy poverty projects are concentrated in a few areas, not always matching the areas most severely hit by energy poverty issues at national level.  Future projects should try to cover more geographical areas and increase the participation of underrepresented countries.
     
  • Improved targeting process. Most projects address consumers living in social housing. This targeting approach leaves out many households in real need, especially in those countries with a low level of social housing provision, such as Eastern Europe and Mediterranean countries. Future EU-funded initiatives could contribute to the sharpening of the targeting approach by researching other identification criteria and application methods.
     
  • Encourage the participation of key stakeholders such as distribution system operators, utilities and technology manufacturers in future innovation projects dealing with energy poverty for optimal results.
     
  • Develop new project success indicators as energy and cost savings may not be appropriate in case of energy poverty. Indicators such as market value added to the property, greater comfort, health or well-being should be investigated.
     
  • Improved publication and dissemination of projects’ outputs to facilitate uptake of lessons learnt and conclusions.
     
  • Last but not least, engaging consumers from the very early stages of the project activities, building on a sense of community and shared values and goals, can help to ensure consumer participation during and after the project activities.

Background

The report comes out in a moment when EU Member States are required to implement EU provisions aimed to address the root causes of energy poverty and to alleviate the condition of energy-poor and vulnerable consumers.

JRC researchers highlight emerging trends in efforts to tackle energy poverty in the EU and contribute to the sharing of knowledge and best practices.

The report contributes to the ongoing debate on how R&I funding can support the fight against energy poverty and improve the living conditions of vulnerable consumers.

The report can serve stakeholders involved in setting up initiatives to alleviate energy poverty that may benefit from the experiences gathered so far thanks to EU funding.

It can also help stakeholders interested in furthering research on this topic in identifying research gaps.