SUITE- Scaling Up Innovation Together for Energy Vulnerability

Fighting Energy Poverty in a new, comprehensive way through Social Innovation 

 By Chiara Fusari, AISFOR 

Energy Poverty is a peculiar phenomenon, which overcomes the simple inability of households to pay energy bills and has an impact on many aspects of citizen’ life presenting itself with a multitude of shades, according to the country, the region and even the neighbourhood people live in, their social status, their age…. 

More than 50 million households in Europe live in a situation of Energy Poverty[1], and this number is susceptible to vary considerably in the next future because of many different factors. Climate change will increase temperature variability and the connected comfort in the houses, the energy transition could lead to an increase in energy prices and market instability and, lastly, the Covid pandemic has forced many at home increasing energy consuming activities and, often, considerably cut households’ wages.  

These considerations lead to a simple understanding: energy poverty is an issue which needs to be faced with appropriate and effective actions at different levels of governance, with the aim to overcome simple assistance support and to put in place long lasting empowerment strategies tailored on vulnerable consumers, stimulating, at the same time, cultural awareness and public debate.  

  1. SUITE PROJECT  

SUITE is a project coordinated by Ecoserveis in partnership with Climate Alliance Europe, AISFOR and Catalan Energy Cluster. It represents a strategic step further in the design of an effective response action to tackle Energy Poverty in Europe. The project has been funded by the European Social Catalyst Fund (EUSCF), and has the objective to design a strategy to scale up a proven social innovation – the ASSIST model – aimed at reducing Energy Poverty through the action of specifically trained social operators. 

SUITE designs 5 scalability plans, each one adapted to the specific local context of five countries: Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary and Romania.   

The Scalability models are built on (1) existing evidence, obtained by the implementation of the ASSIST project, (2) the conduction of local focus groups and interviews with key stakeholders of the territory, and (3) further literature and other existing initiatives and best practices. 

  1. SUITE’s KEY ELEMENT: the ASSIST MODEL 

ASSIST was a European project (Horizon 2020 No.754051) founded to test an innovative holistic model to tackle energy poverty. The model was based on the innovative figure of the Household Energy Advisor (HEA), a professional figure empowered through a specific online course on all energy poverty related issues. The HEA is able to provide direct support on the field to vulnerable households bringing a tailored and comprehensive support: from technical advice to better orientate in the energy market to practical tips to save energy at home, together with the necessary social assistance.   

The key innovative aspect is the design of a centralized and comprehensive approach. As a matter of fact, people in energy poverty face many  problems in different sectors but all may be traced back to their energy poverty situation. For each problem vulnerable consumers are obliged to ask for advice to numerous operators – each working in its specific contexts with consequent consumer confusion, fragmentation of the aids and difficulty, for policy makers, to have a unique picture of vulnerable people’s status.  

The ASSIST model provided an Integrated Contact Point (Fig. 1) by training operators already active on the ground coming from different working sectors on energy poverty related topics. Then, creating a national network of trained advisors who will finally provide advice and support (action) to energy poor/vulnerable people.  

SUITE presents a step further with the willingness to unify all the national networks (joining the 5 networks created within SUITE and similar ones already existing) in a broad decentralized and capillary network.  

SUITE will create the overall frame to tackle energy poverty from the wide European level down to the single advisor on the ground.  

  1. SUITE SCALABILITY PLAN  

The model has a three-layered structure (Fig. 2).  At the top, it will count with a European Secretariat (not a legal entity, but an EU network), acting as a European Umbrella that will: (1) validate and guarantee quality across the different national networks and (2) facilitate the access to funding opportunities for the network members. 

At the second level, the model will count with a national network, which will be in charge of networking, supporting delivery of actions, monitoring, impact assessment, and setting a link with national policies. The national network will integrate and coordinate actions both with municipalities and with independent volunteer associations, depending on the country and will gather both public and private actors.  

 The third level is formed by the single HEAs, which will be in charge of all the actions carried out on the ground. The HEAs, which operate in different areas having different backgrounds, will be formed among operators coming from heterogenous working contexts, complete the ASSIST training courses and, if successfully finished, become members of the ASSIST network delivering advices and support actions to people in need. 

The following graph can also help understanding the organizational (three-layered) idea of the model. Where, the bottom layer (purple) will be present in all countries, always tailored to the existing specificities. 

SUITE will officially end on the 30rd of September 2021, when the definitive national scalability plans will be presented to the EUSCF. Moreover, the project will be presented at the Sustainable Places conference on the 1st of October, held in Rome where, during  a workshop, the strategic phases of the project will be explained. In December the EUSCF will host a final event presenting the achievements of SUITE.  

Starting from September, every country will implement and put in place its own network, while continuing to coordinate and act together for the creation of the European Network. The capacity to exploit all the synergies arising from the national background will be strategic in gathering all the stakeholders contacted during the project, bringing the national networks to reality.  

 [1]Faiella, I. et al, second OIPE Report ,  2020