This article is part of our special report Energy efficiency.
The ongoing energy price crisis has exposed the vulnerability of low-income households, many of whom struggle to access financial support, experts said in a roundtable organised last week (2 December) by the Brussels-based Coalition for Energy Savings.
Gas and power prices have skyrocketed across Europe in recent months, impacting discussions on the EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ package of climate and energy legislation tabled in July by the European Commission.
With its ‘Renovation Wave’ strategy released last year, the EU executive has tabled ambitious plans to revamp the EU’s building stock and at least double the bloc’s renovation rate, which currently stands at just 1% annually.
That would benefit the bloc’s most vulnerable households the most, as it is the poorest consumers who often live in the oldest and least energy-efficient homes.
But financial support schemes to renovate buildings and increase energy savings are not targeted enough, often leaving poor households behind, a panel organised by the Coalition for Energy Savings heard last week.
“We need this support to be targeted as well, in a way that I just don’t think we’ve really done at European level,” said Louise Sunderland, Senior Advisor at the Regulatory Assistance Project, a non-profit group dedicated to accelerating the energy transition.
“By that I mean targeting our energy efficiency measures on those people who are suffering from energy poverty poverty, and who are now further impacted most by these price shocks,” Sunderland added.
“We have seen a lot of programmes to incentivise renovation, but they require households to contribute their own funds. And therefore, low-income households have not been able to access those incentives,” she said.
According to Eurostat, about 8% of EU households were unable to adequately heat their homes in 2020. And amid the recent energy price surge, EU member states are trying to solve the current crisis by focusing mainly on supply-side measures instead of prioritising the reduction of energy use, said Arianna Vitali Roscini, Secretary General of the Coalition for Energy Savings.
“This approach perpetuates the problem; it does not provide a definite solution to high energy bills for citizens, and it may well put the achievement of our climate goals at risk,” Roscini told the webinar.
“What can really make a difference in the medium to long term is to adopt an ambitious legislative energy efficiency framework, coupled with financial and technical support, that aims at drastically reducing energy use.”
Europe’s consumer organisation BEUC said that supply-side measures are not enough, and that the current crisis requires “structural changes”, which are currently lacking in the EU’s climate and energy legislation.
“There is only so much we can achieve with ‘quick wins’,” said Dimitri Vergne, team leader for sustainability at BEUC. “The revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive must accelerate the renovation rates of buildings through concrete and enabling measures. And it must integrate stronger consumer rights and protection, notably on new markets, for instance, district heating”.
“Systematic approach” needed
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that approximately 44% of the required carbon emissions reductions at global level can be achieved by energy efficiency measures alone.
If anything, the current energy crisis highlights that it is “time to ramp up energy efficiency implementation,” said Vida Rozite, an Energy Policy Analyst at the IEA.
“To achieve that, we need robust policy packages across policy domains. It is not just an energy efficiency issue – it spans across all our policies, all aspects of our lives, all sectors, it needs a systematic approach,” she told the webinar.
Niels Fuglsang, a social democrat MEP, was designated to steer the revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) in the European Parliament. And according to the Danish lawmaker, the answer to the ongoing crisis is to increase renewable energy capacity and boost energy savings.
He urged decision-makers to raise the EU’s level of ambition on the current proposal.
“In the EED, we have the overall target of reducing energy consumption by 9% by 2030, compared to the 2020 baseline,” he remarked. “Can we increase that?” he asked.
The Danish lawmaker said the revised directive needs to assess whether the target to achieve 1.5% annual energy savings across the EU is ambitious enough.
“We need EU member states to deliver also in the short term. We have targets for 2030, and that’s good. But how can we make sure that member states don’t wait until the end of the decade?” he asked.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]