On 16 March 2017, RENOVATE EUROPE released a briefing note on energy poverty in the European Union: its causes, impacts and possible solutions. The briefing highlights the following:
Energy poverty is as widespread as it is devastating for those who suffer it. Countries with the poorest building stock have the highest rates of excess winter mortality. EU legislation requires all countries to define vulnerable customers in their energy market so they can be helped, but two thirds of the Member States have not yet done so. The public health consequences are as grievous as they are unnecessary.
The causes are everywhere the same: low wages, high energy bills, low quality and poor performing buildings. Around 54 million Europeans cannot afford to heat their homes in winter, and the same number are either behind with their electricity and gas bills, or live in damp and leaky homes. These problems are worst in central and eastern Europe - affecting 73% of Bulgarians, for example – but is also rife in countries such as the UK and Ireland.
Poor housing standards are a major contributory factor to ill health
Across Europe, a similar picture emerges. Countries with the poorest housing status - Portugal, Greece, Ireland and the UK – have the highest excess winter mortality rates. Positive correlations between winter deaths and environmental temperatures, coupled with negative links to thermal efficiency, indicate that poor housing standards are a major contributory factor to ill health. Given that close to 75% of homes in the EU are not energy efficient, there is a lot of work to be done.
Policy: Demanding the possible
All EU citizens should be able to live in decent housing that does not damage their health, social life, wellbeing or life chances. The key to doing so is sustained energy efficiency programmes which are focused on vulnerable households with simplified access to favorable financing and independent, supporting advice. A good first step would be to target this group with tailored renovation programmes under Article 7 of the Energy Efficiency Directive and within the long-term renovation strategies in the EPBD. Additional funds to help solve this challenge could be allocated as part of a revision of the EU Structural Development Funds, especially the Regional Development Fund.
Energy prices and network charges are likely to continue to increase. Member States' climate change policies have so far been largely funded through utility bills, which increase the risk of energy poverty for vulnerable customers. Unless strong energy efficiency policies targeting the worst-performing buildings are established as a legal demand in the EU legislation we are unlikely to find sustainable long-term solutions that can alleviate energy poverty on a large scale.
You can download the briefing at the relevant RENOVATE EUROPE webpage.