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Defining Energy Poverty in Eastern Europe: report from a workshop in Budapest


On November 25th and 26th, 2019 Centre for Social Sciences Institute of Sociology (TKSZI) in Budapest, Hungary hosted a two day International Conference and Workshop on energy poverty under title ENERGY POVERTY: From Household Problems to Climate Crisis. This event was co-organized by Habitat for Humanity Hungary together with Elosztó and Engager.

From global to local

First day of the conference was dedicated to presentations and discussion on current research, good practices and experiences around defining and measuring energy poverty in Europe with a special focus on Central and Eastern Europe. There were many interesting presentations starting from a high level overview by Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, a Climate researcher from CEU and a member of the UN International Panel on Climate Change, stressing that climate change amplifies inequalities as the severe weather changes affect and will affect the most the poorest ones. Therefore climate change mitigation needs to be interconnected with international development.


Following up on this, the focus shifted to national level, taking examples on energy poverty mitigation from other countries such as Spain. Spain has gone through a long path of defining energy poverty and the indicators needed to measure it from 2009, to having a full new National Energy Poverty Strategy in 2019, being in effect until 2024. This was presented by Sergio Tirado Herrero, a  Marie Curie Research Fellow from Autonomous University of Barcelona. Sergio showed by his presentation that it takes time and a lot of effort and political will to design functioning policies targeting energy poor. Similar approach was presented later by Jakub Sokołowski from Institute for Structural Research University of Warsaw, where Poland also defined energy poverty and picked other similar indicators to measure it, fitting the context of the country.

Understanding energy poverty

What we could learn for these approaches is that indicators are not meant to design policies per se. They rather serve the important purpose of recognizing the issue of energy poverty and being able to understand the phenomena. They are not meant to exactly define the person who is energy poor, which would be in a big scale very ineffective and costly, they rather serve as the basis to work out the policies from the understanding of the issue.

On this occasion, Habitat for Humanity International presented learnings from REELIH project of HFHI and USAID related to energy poverty. REELIH project was not originally designed to address energy poverty in the region. The main aim was to get the market and system of energy efficiency refurbishments of multi apartment buildings running. Focusing on working with all the stakeholders from the system, starting with the homeowners until the government to set up a working "eco-system" for people to be able to refurbish their buildings and therefore pay and consume less of the energy. However over the course of implementing the project it was inevitable to start thinking about and taking into consideration the issue of energy poverty in the region. We have contracted Metropolitan Research Institute from Budapest together with Buildings Performance Institute Europe from Brussels to conduct a *research on energy poverty in the countries of implementation of REELIH project-North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Armenia.

Energy poverty in Western Balkans and Armenia 

There are several impediments in these countries when trying to define energy poverty. First of all, there is very severe lack of data needed to be able to measure or compare energy poverty in the countries. Many people heat only part of their apartments to be able to pay for their heating, many people use solid fuel to heat which makes it much more difficult to really find the energy poor. Most important of all for our project, the homeowners in the multi apartment buildings create big social mix of low income, middle income even higher income living in one building.

Therefore, what to do with a socially mixed community when talking about defining energy poor. There are several solutions to that offered by MRI and BPIE in their study:

However, in countries like Western Balkans and Armenia where the system of management and maintenance of multi apartment buildings does not function properly, it might be more useful to focus first on establishing one and only then start addressing energy poor. It is essential first to develop a proper and working regulatory framework for homeowners associations so they are able to act, finance and implement renovations. It is essential to develop banks to offer products to the homeowners associations and to develop national or local governments to be able to motivate their citizens to consume less energy by refurbishing their buildings. Only then it might be useful to try to focus on energy poverty when talking about multi apartment buildings. Similar process happened in countries of Central Europe such as Slovakia or Czech Republic, where only now, after refurbishing almost half of their residential building stock, they start talking about the issue of energy poverty and how to respond to it.

Energy poverty definition in Hungary

Building on knowledge gained from the first day, second day of the conference was in a format of interactive workshop serving as an opportunity for all to contribute to a draft definition of energy poverty and set of indicators for energy poverty within the Hungarian context. This was a well facilitated day, working in groups, exchanging knowledge, brainstorming and discussing together among experts to try to define and understand energy poverty issue in Hungary.

You can find out more on the ENGAGER project here.

You can find out more on the Eloszto project here.

You can find out more on Habitat for Humanity Hungary here.

*The research will be available online early next year 2020.

We have gotten an early Christmas gift and a good reason to celebrate this end of the year! REELIH project of Habitat for Humanity and USAID is included in a new publication

50-out-of-the-box Housing Solutions to Homelessness and Housing Exclusion

 by Housing Solutions Platform, which is the partnership of FEANTSA, Fondation Abbé Pierre and Housing Europe.

This compendium of different innovative and inspiring cases of housing solutions for the people locked out from decent, affordable and secure housing in Europe was launched on December 11th in the premises of the European Parliament. The publication provides a rich selection of projects attempting to overcome financial and political barriers within European housing system using many different means such as innovative construction, making use of the private rental sector, social housing, integrated approaches and more. Even thought included projects are local and many of them small-scale but should bring more light into the problem and encourage for more creativity in the housing policy. We are pleased and proud to claim that REELIH project got such a label!

Steering Group

Nine housing specialists had a hard task to select 50 from more than 100 proposed projects for the publication. This is yet another success for HFHI to say that Gyorgy Sumeghy, HFHI's Associate Director, Policy and Advocacy, acted as a member of this Steering Group and had a chance to go through all the inspiring projects himself which surely was not an easy task. Each member of the Steering Group also had a chance to nominate a project for evaluation. REELIH was Gyorgy's nomination and managed to get into the publication following.

At the same time, Gyorgy, as all the other Steering Group members, got an opportunity to introduce one of the chapters in this publication. Gyorgy wrote introductory words to Chapter 1 "Grassroot, Community and Collaborative Housing" and highlighted the problem and opportunity at the same time of communities of home-owners who must be mobilized and engaged to operate together. As he says:

"community-led housing is characteristic of local action, often small-scale, that it's about affordability, is not for profit and involves a lot of voluntary effort".

About the launch event

The launch event was opened by Freek Spinnewijn, the director of FEANTSA, and was followed by opening words from the host MEP Katrin Langensiepen, and a presentation of the report given by Clotilde Clark-Foulquier, the head of overall coordination. The second panel was dedicated to presentations of selected projects from the publication divided by themes into two sections. The first topic concerned the important role that cities play in addressing homelessness, the second covered matching housing needs and social needs. REELIH fell under this second section and Gyorgy had a pleasure to present the project of HFHI and USAID there, in the European Parliament in front of many specialists from the field and other relevant stakeholders. At the third and final panel, experts tried to answer the question of how unmet housing needs can be addressed, from the local all the way to the European level.

Check out the video record from the launch event and watch Gyuri's presentation of REELIH starting at 00:50:00. The presentation slides with all others are also available here.

About the publication

The 50 Out-Of-The-Box Housing Solutions to Homelessness & Housing Exclusion is divided into nine chapters, each covering different side of the housing problems. Our "solution" has number 13 and falls under Chapter 2 dedicated to "Innovation in Construction and Renovation".

This is probably the right place to mention and congratulate our local office Habitat for Humanity Poland which also made it into the publication with their Social Rental Agency project in Warsaw. Their project attempts to solve the problem of underdeveloped rental housing sector in Poland. By combining rental housing support, employment services and social work within a single institutional framework, they address the issue of housing shortage, poverty and unequal work opportunities in Warsaw.

It is great to see that the hard work of Habitat for Humanity is acknowledged and appreciated by other experts from the field around the Europe and further. We hope this unique publication will serve its purpose and inspire other local projects to happen and help the people who need it in an effective way which, we suppose, is at the center of all these projects.

We would like to thank FEANTSA, Fondation Abbé Pierre and Housing Europe again for giving us the opportunity to be featured in the publication.

Find more information about Housing Solutions Platform here.

Check out the new report here.





We are happy to see interest growing in the issue of energy poverty and especially in relation to energy efficiency. The Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) recognizes the graveness of this issue, conducted a quantitative empirical analysis of energy poverty in Europe, its causes and how energy efficiency can help to fight it and published a report called Energy Poverty In Europe: How Energy Efficiency and Renewables Can Help. CEB found out that energy poverty rates are highest in Southern and Central-Eastern European countries but the problem still stays European-wide. Overall, CEB study claims that there is an estimation of 30 million people living in energy poverty in Europe.

CEB works with an unofficial definition of energy poverty as unreasonably high proportion of income spent on energy bills per household; or households that are unable to afford basic energy needs at all.

The study claims that main causes of energy poverty stem from low income, poor quality homes and energy inefficient appliances. The high rates of energy poverty correlate with higher at-risk-of-poverty rates, food poverty (inability to afford basic food staples) and higher rates of self-reported health issues.

Study's findings and conclusions

CEB was looking at how energy prices and income levels influence household energy consumption. They conclude that in a short run, changes in prices of energy and household income levels have small impact on household energy consumption. On the other hand, in a long-term, demand for energy depends on prices and incomes following this logic:

Households may forgo using gas as an energy source if prices become too high. At the same time, rise in income is associated with an increase in the consumption of either electricity or gas and should help reducing energy poverty rates.

Energy efficiency of buildings is, however, not the final stage of the process. Once the buildings have sufficient household energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy becomes another driver combating energy poverty. It is predicted that as renewable energy technology develops and capacity increases, the marginal cost of renewables will continue to fall, making them affordable alternatives to conventional energy sources.


After a 10% increase in the household energy efficiency score:

Moreover, after governments undertake and implement high impact energy efficiency policy, household energy consumption may drop by 4.4%. Other econometrics show that there is a direct effect of energy efficiency in helping reduce energy-related economic vulnerability.

Overall, CEB's study shows that energy efficiency improvements and related regulatory policies contribute to decreasing in household energy consumption and energy poverty rates.

Find the full report here.

Find the press release about this report here.



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