January success story: Involving energy poor households in the energy transition
Community energy is key to action on the climate crisis. It can empower people, boost local economies, and reinvigorate communities. Community-led initiatives play an important part in the transition towards a 100% renewable and just energy future. Success stories of community energy projects can be found all over Europe. At REScoop.eu we want to highlight these stories to further accelerate the movement towards a cleaner and democratic system.
During these cold winter months, we want to raise attention to energy poverty and put inspiring community-led solidarity initiatives, such as Énergie Solidaire and the Affordable Warmth programme of ALIenergy, in the spotlight.
The challenge we are facing
Energy poverty is on the rise across Europe. In 2019, more than 50 million households were not able to access essential energy services, such as heating in winter and cooling in summer. Due to COVID-19, energy poverty rates have soared in the last couple of years because individuals are stuck at home for long periods of time and many people have lost their source of income. The energy prices crisis of the last couple of months is making things even worse. Many individuals and households are forced now to choose between eating or heating their houses.
Energy poverty is usually determined by unpaid energy bills. However, the problem has many faces and is experienced differently by each person, having consequences in their health, wellbeing, social inclusion and quality of life. This makes it hard to define and measure, and consequently, to act on it.
Community energy leaves no one behind
Responsibilities towards people living in energy poverty lie with governments. However, to date, they have approached energy poverty in a very fragmented way, often leading to policies that are mismatched with how the issue is experienced on the ground.
Community energy initiatives are a promising way forward. The energy transition to energy democracy should not leave anybody behind and many energy cooperatives are involving vulnerable citizens in the energy transition. These community-rooted initiatives are also crucial to identify local needs, often overlooked by institutional programmes.
The donation fund of Énergie Solidaire
Énergie Solidaire is an initiative, born out of the French energy cooperative Enercoop, that supports organisations and programmes tackling energy poverty across France. Kevin Chaplais, founder and general delegate of Énergie Solidaire, explains why they decided to create this initiative.
"Les Amis d'Enercoop – a group of volunteers and members of Enercoop - had previously incubated several programs to complement what Enercoop does as an energy supplier. We launched Énergie Solidaire to focus on energy poverty, the last aspect of the energy transition that was not addressed by our close ecosystem. After meeting with several experts in the field in France, we quickly realized that many small non-profit organizations were already developing programmes to tackle this issue. Therefore, we didn’t find a need to invent new ways to address energy poverty, but rather to find additional resources to help these initiatives grow their number of beneficiaries."
With this in mind, Energie Solidaire developed a fund that collects energy surplus donations from producers and microdonations on energy bills from Enercoop clients. The money raised is used to support organisations that are already working on energy poverty, mainly accompanying energy poor households in achieving energy-efficient home renovations. The supported projects have just finished, and Kevin estimates that they have helped between 30 and 50 households in the last two years.
Financing the renovation of the houses of energy poor households is one of the most important measures to eradicate energy poverty according to Kevin, who calls for more support from the French government in this area.
"The government already provides help, but there is always a part of the bill that has to be covered by the household, which too often proves to be prohibitive. If the government could finance the whole bill instead of just one bit, that would be extremely useful."
ALIenergy: transforming energy poverty into affordable warmth
ALIenergy is a Scottish energy agency, and member of REScoop.eu, that launched ‘Affordable Warmth’, a service to provide free, confidential and impartial home energy advice and support.
According to the findings of the Scottish house condition survey 2019, one in four households in Scotland were in fuel poverty that year. The situation is far worse in remote rural areas, where 43% of households are affected by fuel poverty. This is because they are cold and dark regions, the houses are not well insulated, and they tend to have elderly demographics, low incomes and a lack of gas supply.
ALIenergy’s programme reaches over 100 households per month and offers, among other things, help to access government funds and support schemes, advice on how to use home appliances more efficiently, help to identify dampness and condensation causes, and a “Cosy Kit” with items such as hot water bottles, blankets, thermal socks, and cold alarms.
The stigma associated with energy poverty is a barrier for many people to ask for help. ALIenergy is aware of this stigma and always keeps it in mind when addressing families at risk of energy poverty. Lynda Mitchell, ALIenergy manager, explains more about this approach.
"We use the term ‘Affordable Warmth’ because it is much more positive than fuel poverty: Affordable Warmth Service, Affordable Warmth Advisors, etc. Moreover, we often quote fuel poverty statistics to show how common it is, with the message ‘If you are struggling to afford to heat your home, you are not alone.’"
Lynda also highlights that energy poverty is not only elderly people sitting by the fire and she shares examples of situations they have found.
"Energy poverty is taking the free bus for a round trip because it's warm; sitting in the pub, café or library all day because it is warmer than home; living in just one room because it’s too expensive to heat the whole house; or going hungry because there is no money left after paying the energy bills."
Community Energy for Energy Solidarity
Énergie Solidaire and ALIenergy are two inspiring best practices of how citizen-led initiatives enact social justice. REScoop.eu, together with these two initiatives and four energy communities (Coopérnico, Les 7 Vents, Repowering and ZEZ) has launched the Community Energy for Energy Solidarity (CEES) project, an initiative that aims to identify successful actions tackling energy poverty and compile them in an Energy Solidarity Toolkit that will enable their replication.
Thanks to this project we will be able to empower energy communities and other organisations to apply the most effective interventions to alleviate energy poverty. It will also help us identify legal, regulatory and financial barriers for community energy solidarity, and find ways to overcome them. We see a great willingness, creativity and flexibility amongst communities to act on energy poverty, but we understand that to further tap into this potential, there is a need for stable support and recognition by national governments and the European Union.
Join the Right to Energy Forum
REScoop.eu is also involved in the Right to Energy Coalition, a group of trade unions, anti-poverty groups, social housing providers, NGOs, environmental campaigners, and health organisations from all across Europe that work together to end energy poverty across Europe.
This week we all are participating in the Right to Energy Forum, the Right to Energy Coalition’s annual conference. This online event offers five days of discussions and interactive sessions to enact solutions to end energy poverty and work towards an energy system that serves people and the planet before profit.
You are still on time to register for the Right to Energy Forum and join the last discussions!