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.

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