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2012-12-03 15.56.37

Facilitator: Paul Ciniglio, 
First Wessex
UK

Fuel poverty can be defined as the inability to keep a home adequately warm at an affordable cost. A common definition of fuel poverty, used in several European countries, is where a household pays more than 10% of its disposable income on annual fuel bills. Recent studies undertaken in Western Europe reveal that 12% of all households are living in fuel poverty by this definition.

Fuel poverty is particularly prevalent in Europe’s social housing sector, representing some 25 million homes, as occupants are typically on lower than average national household incomes. The issue however, is certainly not limited just too social housing and it is estimated that tens of millions of people across the continent are adversely affected by the situation. Fuel poverty is heavily influenced by the combination of the energy performance of a home and household income, although external factors such as energy supply prices also have an impact.

The effects of fuel poverty can be drastic with poor health extremely common amongst those caught in the trap and thousands of excess winter deaths occurring every year, especially amongst the elderly. Many households are today facing the unacceptable stark choice of simply whether to ‘heat or eat’. In many regions the demand for ‘affordable cooling’ is growing and adding to overall household running costs.

While there is growing awareness and understanding of fuel poverty and its causes, the issue is not clearly defined in every European country even though similar problems are observed such as unpaid energy bills, an increased burden on health services, under heating and self-disconnecting from fuel supplies. It is unlikely that a common measurement of fuel poverty that works throughout the EU could easily be adopted. Set against increasing energy costs and static household incomes, the 10% definition would even appear to be in need of urgent review.

The ‘tackling fuel poverty’ workshop will explore the issues, the extent of the problem and how it can best be alleviated through questions and interactive discussion that will bring the problems together with possible solutions. The workshop findings will feed into the Work Stream 6 policy recommendations.

Questions (5 mins introduction to workshop followed by 5 mins debate per question):

  1. What can cities most effectively do to tackle fuel poverty today? Reference can be made to project examples & campaigns that have been used successfully in the EU.

  2. If an increase in fuel poverty is inevitable, what are the main social, economic and environmental burdens that will be placed on society and cities in the future? Consider if the cost of tackling the problem properly now is likely to be more affordable than dealing with the consequences later?

  3. To address the urgency of the issue during current economic conditions, should priority action be focused on addressing occupant behaviour or the more expensive physical retrofitting of energy efficiency measures in order to alleviate fuel poverty?

  4. What are the key policy recommendations cities should be making to decision makers?

Feedback from workshop 1 & 2

  1. What can cities most effectively do to tackle fuel poverty today?

  • Undertake or lead on fuel poverty city mapping study e.g. establish energy efficiency performance of homes and overlay social and economic data in order to be able to target resources to tackle the problem most effectively.

  • Develop a city Fuel Poverty strategy, plan early and for the long term and retain control.

  • Organising and or leading ‘Energy behaviour change’ programmes.

  • Formulate local methods of defining, ascertaining and measuring fuel poverty consistently.

  • Focus on local energy supplies sources and innovation e.g. Biomass, Hydrogen, Geothermal, district heat networks, community renewables etc and seek switching to obtain best supply prices.

  • Control as a city the production and supply of energy e.g. ownership of local energy plant and distribution networks.

  • Take the lead in establishing bulk procurement of energy supplies locally and consider seasonal purchasing e.g. fuel can be cheaper in summer. Similarly bulk purchase of products such as insulation, solar panels etc. Role for ESCO’s and collective switching initiatives. The economics can work e.g. Germany.

  • Establish and advise on what are acceptable standards of performance, best practice, robust technical standards & specifications suitable for different house types and constructions.

  • Offer financial subsidy payments or improvement loans to those households most in need / most vulnerable.

  • Communicate clearly all available grants, loans and subsidies e.g. Gent booklet.

  • Use national or local legislation to take advantage of void homes (those about to be re-let) to improve the energy performance standard e.g. in Ireland min EPC band C1.

  • Recruit and train volunteers in retrofitting techniques or community energy efficiency advice.

  • Provide simple easily understood advice and concentrate on cost effective measures.

  • Link the need to improve housing quality with energy efficiency improvements.

  • Focus on the specific needs of families and understand that fuel poverty is a dynamic / moving target and will invariably be harder to identify in private sector housing.

  • Determine when fuel poverty is better tackled on an individual basis or a community level.

  • Installing individual meters and smart meters in blocks of flats to make consumers more accountable for energy use. Understanding how problematic communal areas of flats can be improved in energy efficiency terms. Legal / ownership perspective to consider.

  • Recognise that energy inefficient homes can lead to under utilisation of housing generally.

  1. If an increase in fuel poverty is inevitable, what are the main social, economic and environmental burdens that will be placed on society and cities in the future?

  • Understanding who pays for the consequences is a problem? It was said it is everyone’s problem and everyone in society must take responsible ownership. However, the problem is not high on most citizen’s agenda. How high do energy supply prices need to reach before the problem is taken seriously and tackled voluntarily?

  • Need to consider longer term energy dependence.

  • Problems of social exclusion / social cohesion will be exacerbated if problem is tackled.

  • Understand the costs and impacts on health services, child poverty, educational attainment etc.

  • Need to get the balance between energy efficiency measures in the home (hardware) and behaviour change correct (software) correct if efforts are to work. Benefit v effort in saving energy.

  • Implications of charging higher rents for more energy efficient homes was discussed e.g. Dutch warm rent system versus not being possible to increase rent in UK social housing. Local taxes redistributed for retrofit purposes e.g. Sweden.

  • Improved understanding of how / if energy efficient retrofit affects the value of housing.

  • Need to plan now and take a long term view. An alternative is possible to achieve.

  • City heat island effect needs to be considered.

  1. To address the urgency of the issue during current economic conditions, should priority action be focused on addressing occupant behaviour or the more expensive physical retrofitting of energy efficiency measures in order to alleviate fuel poverty?

  • Consensus was that both need to be tackled and ideally simultaneously. They can not be separated (both hardware and software must work together).

  • Best practice examples of retrofit achieving deep cuts e.g. open show homes raises awareness and helps action to be replicated. Every major city or town should have a show home open to public as more examples are needed.

  • Tackling only behaviour change doesn’t begin to address the scale of the issue of reducing the EU’s carbon dioxide emissions.

  • What is the role of housing retrofit versus decarbonisation of fuel supplies in reaching EU emission reduction targets?

  • Behaviour change can cost nothing and save a lot. Simple choices can be made to help ones self. A change in attitude is needed. This should begin in schools it may need a generation before it is commonly taken seriously enough.

  • The issue isn’t purely about saving money on running costs or tackling climate change, it is health, child poverty etc because our long term survival is at stake.

  • Long term energy security must urgently be addressed.

  • Scaling up retrofit work has massive job creation potential.

  • Can young people for example be trained up to voluntarily provide energy efficiency and lifestyle advice to build a sense of responsibility and to obtain new life skills?

  • Tackling fuel poverty is a priority for some city authorities e.g. Manchester.

  • Problems of engaging people need to be overcome. Understanding group behaviour / dynamic needs to be improved.

  • Campaigns must be followed up with effective evaluation and need to be on going campaigns.

  • Make the benefits of behaviour change and deep retrofit visible through clear communication.

  • Supply chains need to mature.

  1. What are the key policy recommendations cities should be making to decision makers?

  • Tackling fuel poverty is an URGENT problem, move now and follow through with real action!

  • Make energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty a priority for ERDF. Long term ERDF programmes are needed with project legacy. Don’t overlook private / private rented housing!

  • Cities should take a lead on energy supply procurement / ownership / distribution networks etc and link local resources and innovation that is available with the solution. A territorial approach. Consider city clusters acting together. Remove power from the national energy suppliers. Make energy more affordable as a result of action to drive demand and change.

  • Cities must locally define, assess, measure and monitor fuel poverty (it isn’t possible to have a universal definition in the EU).

  • Upgrade the aspirations of the Covenant of Mayors in order to fully address retrofit and fuel poverty in housing.

  • Campaigning of the importance of tackling retrofit seriously now is needed e.g. mobility has benefitted from greater campaigning efforts. Give energy efficiency a public face across all policy measures!

  • Link retrofit strategies to job creation strategies and involve and invest in the young.

  • Improve education around the issue of energy use / behaviour and personal responsibility. Role of schools and colleagues etc.

  • Top down approaches won’t alone succeed. Needs a bottom up and top down approach with improved incentives (understanding of the benefits through effective and engaging communication) so communities and policy makers can work together effectively and reap the benefits.

  • Fiscal incentives to be more effectively targeted at those most in need.

  • Introduce flexibility in rental charges for retrofitted homes that are proven to be cheaper to run.

  • More community ownership / empowerment approaches needed. Tackle the problem at community level. More champions needed.

  • Find out what works for people in a local area – motivational change factors.

  • Less reliance on fossil fuels – we remain slaves to fossil fuel and this must change.

  • Take awareness through to action.

  • Expand knowledge exchange between cities of successful good / best practice.

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