Blog – Energy poverty and the role of municipalities

Featured in eClimail, June 2021

By Helena Daum and Eva Suba, Climate Alliance

34 million Europeans are facing the threat of energy poverty[1]. Lately, the issue is getting more and more attention – whether at EU level, in local climate action strategies or at Climate Alliance. But what exactly is energy poverty and what can municipalities in Europe do about it?

The Covenant of Mayors defines energy poverty as a condition in which households cannot afford basic energy services such as heating, cooling, lightning, mobility and electricity due to low income, high energy costs or low energy standards of buildings. The definition makes it clear that the fight against energy poverty is a cross-cutting task and affects different policy fields, including climate and environmental policy.

The situation of energy poverty varies strongly from one place to another. Measures to alleviate energy poverty must be chosen in relation to local conditions such as climate, housing quality, economy and the structure of energy costs. But the problem itself is more widespread than one might think, and thus requires efforts from all European actors.

Municipalities in Central Europe are facing this issue. In Germany, for example, energy expenses have increased more than the average cost of living in recent years. This development particularly affects households at risk of poverty, as they have to spend a large part of their income on energy consumption. Measures to increase the energy efficiency of buildings are part of the answer, especially in the private rented sector, which has great potential to increase energy efficiency. A first scientific report, made possible through the Climate Alliance project ENPOR, has now captured the reasons for the situation in the private rented sector: lack of information and time as well as negative perception of energy efficiency.

What can municipalities do to address these issues and ultimately energy poverty as such?

In addition to political measures, such as the regulation of energy costs, there are numerous other ways for municipalities to become active in their local climate action measures – be it through financing solutions, improving energy efficiency in residential buildings, energy advisory or raising awareness of climate and energy issues. Climate Alliance offers municipalities support in this field through a series of projects – for and with its members from across Europe.

In recent years, Climate Alliance member Brest Métropole (FR) has been able to motivate residents from different neighbourhoods to take a closer look at their energy consumption. The city offered individual consultations in flats and provided information on energy-saving behaviour. Currently, Brest Métropole is developing a one-stop-shop for combating energy poverty together with the local energy agency. Examples of a successful energy advisory concept can also be found in Germany. With the so called „Stromspar-Check“ (Electricity Savings Check) developed in the City of Frankfurt, free energy-saving advice is offered to recipients of social benefits. Municipalities can save financial resources through savings in costs for water and heating thanks to the high energy efficiency standards of the new devices built in as part of the programme. Energy communities are yet another way to counteract energy poverty. The inclusive financing approach provides for consumers to become co-owners of renewable energies and is currently being tested in different European pilot regions.

Improving energy efficiency is also an important pillar in the fight against energy poverty. This approach focuses on the buildings themselves as energy consumers. Buildings must be constructed and, above all, renovated more efficiently. The current building stock in Europe has large gaps in this respect. There is therefore a need for action at all levels.

In order to provide its members with orientation in this complex field of topics, Climate Alliance will be offering a number of events on energy poverty, energy efficiency and buildings over the next few months. An event series on buildings will give member municipalities the opportunity to learn more about energy storage, campaigns to raise awareness and deep retrofits. The series will end with a dedicated workshop on energy poverty at Climate Alliance’s International Conference from 8 – 10 September 2021. All events provide opportunities for exchange to give interested members the opportunity to discuss questions and suggestions with other municipal representatives and experts. With a current survey, Climate Alliance is also mapping the needs of its member municipalities with regard to buildings in local climate action.  The aim is to set up a working group on buildings based on the survey results.

Climate Alliance is ready to tackle the issue of energy poverty. The topic as well as related aspects, especially in the building sector, will be important components of the network’s work in the coming years. With the coordination of the European Energy Poverty Advisory Hub (EPAH), the EU initiative that aims to eradicate energy poverty and accelerate the just energy transition of Europe, Climate Alliance has recently taken on a central responsibility to further advance the issue also at EU level.

The different approaches and areas affected by energy poverty emphasise that the problem requires interdisciplinary thinking. Cooperation is key – within a municipality as well as with external stakeholders. All parties involved must learn from each other and act together to fight against energy poverty. Only in this way we can allow for a just transformation process and achieve the goals of the European Green Deal by 2050.

Read more:

The ENPOR Project’s Knowledge Hub

Climate Alliance

[1] Commission Recommendation (EU) 2020/1563 of 14 October 2020 on energy poverty