[29.04.22] Alleviating energy poverty in Europe’s private-rented sector: A platform to assess the success and failure of EU policies

By Mara Oprea, IEECP

Although it is widely recognized that the Private Rented Sector (PRS) faces serious energy poverty issues due to increasing energy costs and the COVID-19 pandemic, there are no EU support measures or policies designed specifically for low-income tenants. In the effort to inspire change and action on this front, ENPOR, a project funded by the Horizon 2020 programme, has been monitoring the various dimensions of European energy poverty in the private rented sector for the last 18 months. ENPOR has worked with national and regional stakeholders to co-create policies and measures to help alleviate energy vulnerability while providing a structured knowledge exchange platform now publicly available for use and regularly updated with new policies.

The ENPOR project – which seeks to alleviate energy poverty and vulnerability within the EU private rented sector (PRS) by supporting the adaptation and implementation of both policies and measures tailored to the specific needs of the sector – has just passed its midway point.

Having begun in 2020, ENPOR has progressed with its objectives of

i) deepening the understanding on energy poverty policies for the PRS to better understand the factors that trigger or prevent energy efficiency investments,

ii) monitoring the dimensions of energy poverty in the sector via the Energy Poverty Dashboard tool, and

iii) supporting the set-up and implementation of energy efficiency policies to alleviate energy poverty in the PRS.

The project is a unique collaboration between the two main stakeholder groups in the European energy poverty domain, namely landlords and tenants, and as such, the ten policies being developed within ENPOR via a bottom-up approach will be integrated into broader policy contexts in Austria, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Italy, and the Netherlands to address the needs of these stakeholders.

While these policies are being developed and adapted to today’s volatile energy market and needs, ENPOR has simultaneously been revealing the geographies of energy poverty to help detect, quantify and monitor the effects of energy efficiency policies on energy vulnerability via the Energy Poverty Dashboard (EPD) tool.

The EPD responds to the lack of Europe-wide data on the issue  of  energy poverty in the PRS by acting as a pan-European platform for the spatial visualisation and quantification of energy poverty patterns and associated actions to address the issue. In addition, it establishes an online space for sharing knowledge and energy efficiency practices at local, regional, national, and international levels. The Dashboard also provides novel methods to collect, calculate the impacts of, and represent data on policies for the PRS via the use of indicators that underpin inequalities in the sector. As such, the consortium is proud to present the EPD as a tool which can be used to define suitable measures for energy poverty alleviation as a result of specific policy implementation.

The Dashboard features two main ways to interact with data on energy poverty, with the first being the ability to engage with indicator data such as the number of people unable to keep their homes warm, arrears on utility bills, presence of rot or damp and so on, collated by country and regions over 15 years. This data has been disaggregated so that it can be viewed for the population as a whole, or for tenants only.

Figure 1 – Diagram of Indicator Data Functions

The second feature of the EPD allows visitors to interact with a mapped resource of policies and measures which address energy poverty or work to improve energy efficiency in the PRS across Europe.

Figure 2 – Diagram of Policy & Measure Display Functions

This aspect is open resource which grants anyone the ability to submit policies that will be reviewed and published into the dashboard by the EPD team. ENPOR is now encouraging all stakeholders involved in the energy efficiency sector with interests in the PRS to browse the dashboard and submit relevant policies. In particular, measures and policies from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are particularly welcome. 

The work carried out by ENPOR is well timed as energy poverty still remains at high levels in the EU due to increasing energy costs and slow progress on energy efficiency improvements, and, despite the presence of various policies that are intended to mitigate energy poverty at the household level, energy poverty continues to increase in the private rented sector.

In the current context of global affairs and the Russo-Ukraine war, gas prices have skyrocketed, leaving EU tenants to suffer the consequences of exponentially higher utility bills. Through the use of the EPD, ENPOR would like to raise awareness of measures which could help decrease the impacts of rising heating and energy costs, and address the split incentive issue within the PRS. In the next 18 months, the Dashboard will continue to develop into a more holistic energy justice hub that can be expanded in scale and scope to present a wider range of indicators about, and initiatives to fight, energy poverty. The EPD will be further developed to provide more detailed and comprehensive energy data, which could be disaggregated by housing sector (PRS, socially rented and owner-occupier where available), thereby creating a useful pool of resources, increasing its geographical coverage beyond Europe, as well as creating a broader community of practitioners, citizens and experts.

The ENPOR EPD now has 75 policies that have been relevance and quality-checked, and uploaded with over 100 submissions. Interaction with the Energy Poverty Dashboard is encouraged!