The 10 SocialWatt Country Factsheets on energy poverty
The SocialWatt project previously made a review in November 2019 of the status quo of energy poverty and related policies in a selection of 11 countries (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain). This provides a complementary update in the form of 10 country factsheets prepared between September 2022 and March 2023, showing the recent major developments in the context of energy poverty and in the policy measures implemented to face the current energy crisis, as well as to more structurally tackle energy poverty with energy efficiency measures.
In Austria, the Stromhilfefonds initially developed by Caritas with one energy utility, is now deployed over the whole country, with an increasing number of organizations and energy companies. Two recent national energy efficiency schemes are also targeted at vulnerable groups (renovation of large buildings, and the replacement of fossil fuel heating systems in individual homes) with already allocated budgets amounting to 375 million euros between 2022 and 2025.
In Croatia, a national programme to combat energy poverty is under development with already two pilot renovation programmes (on individual houses and on social housing) that are the first Croatian renovation programmes explicitly aimed at reducing energy poverty, with grant rate of 100%, and the objective to expand them based on the experience from their first years.
In Germany, energy poverty is not yet fully acknowledged as a specific issue and is rather addressed as part of the more general poverty issue, through social welfare policies. Nevertheless, national schemes with local implementation make energy advice and complementary support available for free to low-income households.
In Greece, the grant schemes for building renovation and replacement of appliances have been recently revised to move away from a first come-first served basis. The new renovation programme includes a specific part of its budget dedicated to grants for low-income households. The new schemes for appliances rank and select applications according to economic and social criteria.
In Ireland, the recent change in the ‘energy poverty’ ringfence in the Energy Efficiency Obligation Scheme (EEOS) with the objective to promote deeper renovations focused on the least energy efficient dwellings. This part of the EEOS works closely with the public schemes for building renovations. This fosters partnerships and the blending of funding sources.
Italy has two national observatories on energy poverty (one independent created in 2019, and one institutional established in 2022), but not yet a national energy poverty strategy or action plan. In fact, there is not yet any national energy efficiency measure fully dedicated to tackle energy poverty. Nevertheless, the tax deductions have been revised (ecobonus) or directly designed (superbonus) to make it possible for low-income households to benefit from these schemes.
Portugal has implemented since August 2021 an energy efficiency voucher for energy poor households (eligible to the social tariff), as part of its as part of its Recovery & Resilience Plan. However, the results have been so far lower than expected, partly because the amount of the voucher seems too small to be attractive for installers. The scheme is thus under revision to overcome the barriers identified.
In Romania, the adoption of an official definition of energy poverty in September 2021 paved the way so that the programs or measures financed under the National Fund for Energy Efficiency should now be implemented as a priority, directly or indirectly, among vulnerable households. This can be seen in two recent schemes part of the Recovery & Resilience Plans: these schemes are targeted on the renovation of buildings in deprived areas, with allocated budgets amounting to 1 billion euros in total.
In Spain, the National Strategy against Energy Poverty (ENPE) was approved by the government in April 2019, including an axis on building renovations and another one on regional and local initiatives, and especially energy poverty offices to provide tailored support to vulnerable households (following the example of Barcelona). One part of the ‘Building renovation and urban regeneration plan’ included in Spain’s Recovery & Resilience Plan is focused on neighbourhood retrofitting in deprived areas. And another part aims at the construction or rehabilitation of buildings to provide further 20 000 social housing dwellings with high energy efficiency standards, with a total budget of 1 billion euros.
In the United Kingdom, England’s and Wale’s Energy Company Obligation has been progressively revised to be 100% focused on energy poverty alleviation from 2018, and more recently to further focus on the least energy efficient dwellings. A Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard is also in force since 2020 to address energy poverty in the private-rented sectors, by requiring landlords to make a minimum investment in energy savings works in the least energy efficient dwellings. Various energy efficiency schemes are implemented in the different UK countries, with different targeting approaches.
The overall trend of development and reinforcement of energy efficiency schemes to tackle energy poverty should continue now that the recast of the Energy Efficiency Directive introduces an energy poverty ringfence (i.e. that Member States will have to achieve a minimum share of their energy savings among priority groups).
Moreover, these energy efficiency schemes bring long-standing impacts to alleviate energy poverty, in a much more sustainable way than the emergency measures put in place to face the current energy crisis with an enormous cost to the public budget.