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Alleviating energy poverty in social and privately-owned homes from 2020 until today

The role of cooperative, social, and public housing providers in the just energy transition

31 March 2023 | Published in Social

When the EU-funded POWERPOOR project started almost three years ago, energy poverty was already a long-standing issue for social and affordable housing tenants, but no one could imagine the relevance it would develop due to a pandemic, energy crisis, and war. Instead of dwelling on the negative impacts, Housing Europe, our Estonian member, EKYL, city networks, innovative funding organisations, energy agencies, and other project partners used the gained momentum in order to amplify the need to take action. The POWERPOOR approach is a rather simple, yet effective solution, accessible to anyone who is willing to get involved. Below, our Communications Junior Officer, Andreea Nacu, will tell you how through using a set of tools and a network of Energy Supporters and Mentors, the project wants to achieve the goal of reaching the most vulnerable, understanding their situation, and finding appropriate solutions.

On 28-29 March, the organisations behind the project gathered in Brussels to give an insight into the latest results. More than 1,000 people were trained on how to support households experiencing fuel poverty, 22 energy alleviation offices opened their doors, and 8 national policy roadmaps were drafted. The role of cooperative, social, and public housing providers in the just energy transition came clearly to the fore.

The Estonian Union of Co-operative Housing Associations (EKYL), a Housing Europe member, stressed tha tenergy poverty can be a sensitive topic and that vulnerable people are prone to stigmatisation. As a result, gaining their trust can be rather difficult to gain their trust. In this context, it is easier for housing providers to break down the barrier and get to a wider number of residents. When it comes to privately-owned apartments, the availability of financing can represent a serious obstacle to energy-efficient renovations. Additionally, when consensus is also required, this being the case in Estonia, residents need even more guidance. As part of the POWERPOOR actions, Anu Sarnet who is in charge of the project and international affairs said that EKYL has appointed a legal advisor to assist the residents interested in doing renovation work.

On March 29, a joint session between POWERPOOR and the EU project, EmpowerMed which supports women facing energy poverty, Elena Donnari from the Directorate-General for Energy of the European Commission acknowledged the challenges faced by the Member States, with all the different sets of rules to follow and funding available. Elena Donnari said that we should learn from experience, see what is important for all the stakeholders involved, and take into account the specificity of the people we speak to, the social and cultural barriers, for example when you putting in place an energy advisors’ network.

 Diving a little deeper into what POWERPOOR means in practice. One of the most concrete results of the project is the POWERPOOR Energy Poverty Mitigation Toolkit, which has four main components. Power Target is an online free questionnaire that allows evaluating the energy expenses of a household, offering at the same time recommendations to decrease energy costs. If the household is identified as vulnerable, Power Act allows for measuring the consumption of the home, and to receive personalised suggestions to change user behaviour and finding out what funding programmes are available for efficiency improvements. As a next step, Power Fund can be used as a platform that brings together joint initiatives, such as energy communities or cooperatives, aimed at tackling energy poverty. Finally, the Energy Poverty Guidebook for energy planning, compiles all the necessary information for implementing a bottom-up collaborative approach.

Watch a short demonstration video on how the POWERPOOR Toolkit can be used

Arguably, the most meaningful impact resulting from the POWERPOOR project is the work done by the network of Energy Supporters and Mentors. For about two years, social housing providers, members of the local administration, social or health workers, researchers or engineers have been trained, have been trained certified members of the network. Once certified, the supporter or mentor, can either welcome visitors in one of the dedicated offices or, equipped with the POWERPOOR toolkit, can go from house to house, and reach those who might not be able to go to an office or would not think they could receive this kind of support.

While most of the supporters and mentors were trained at the national level, which allows a better understanding of the local context, Housing Europe was also in charge of organising EU-wide training sessions. Through a total of five online webinars, this represented a great opportunity to reach interested people from all over the continent, and even further away, in countries such as Mexico.

As POWERPOOR encourages a rather bottom-up approach, the idea of a local contact point was initiated, that would allow affected citizens to have easy access to a reliable source of information. Being called ‘Energy Poverty Alleviation Offices’, they play the role of a one-stop-shop, where anyone interested to find out if they are vulnerable to being energy poor can meet with an Energy Supporter or Mentor and receive advice free of charge. There are currently 22 such offices in Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Portugal, and Spain, that are being managed by either POWERPOOR partners or directly by a municipality. In Tallinn for instance, EKYL has opened an energy poverty alleviation office in their premises.

The main issues and questions of the offices’ visitors may differ depending on the context of each country, especially regarding the climate. However, some questions seem to be more common than others. In Bulgaria, people are interested to know what else they can do to reduce their energy bills, and are asking about financial schemes that would help them finance larger-scale improvements, or will enable them to buy PVs. In Estonia, where the visitors are mainly administrators or members of apartment associations from multi-family buildings, they can obtain instructions for energy-efficient renovations and the installation of renewable energy solutions for large housing estates. In Hungary, subsidies are one of the recurring topics. Another frequent situation is that of elderly residents living alone, in large apartments with high ceilings and poorly insulated windows, who want to decipher their #energy consumption and reduce the cost of their bills.

As every contribution counts, it was important to open the way to any relevant stakeholders, including: municipalities, regions, energy agencies, universities, social services, non-governmental organisations, utilities, and media. The ‘Shareholder Liaison Groups’, were created in all pilot countries, and had to meet regularly. Besides sharing their valuable expertise, the participants of these groups will have the important mission to carry on and promote the achievements of the project. You can read about an example from Estonia here.

While all the work done on the ground carried out in various forms, be it home visits or Info Days, was very valuable for awareness raising, POWERPOOR aimed at achieving a more long-lasting impact. This is why at the end of the project, each pilot country will develop a set of policy recommendations so that decision-makers from different government levels can learn from and potentially implement the results of the project.

As POWERPOOR is slowly coming to an end, the partners are focusing on ways to make its lessons go on. On June 9, during the International Social Housing Festival 2023 in Barcelona, POWERPOOR, the Flemish social housing initiative, ASTER, and the Energy Agency of Barcelona will come together to share the lessons that were learned by housing providers when it comes to energy poverty, and what lawmakers could do about it. But until then, keep an eye on the website, Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, to stay up to date with the most interesting developments in alleviating energy poverty!