Written by Anna Bajomi, Metropolitan Research Institute, Budapest
I first got familiar with the REELIH (Residential Energy Efficiency for Low Income Householdes) project when I was writing a chapter of the Energy Poverty Handbook about good practices aiming to end energy poverty. Since then the Handbook was published, with a case study in it about REELIH. The case study was unique in the sense that it described a project which offers a very complex set of interventions to improve the housing stock of non-EU countries where practice and know-how about energy efficiency is not yet widespread.
Thus I very much appreciated that I could participate at the conference Reducing Energy Poverty by Energy Efficiency Projects in Residential Buildings: The Case for Eastern Europe organised by Habitat for Humanity with the support of USAID. The conference not only offered the audience a deeper insight in the most important outcomes of the REELIH project but it also presented the issue of energy poverty and energy efficiency in its whole complexity, starting from the European framework of energy policy and arriving at the very concrete results and learnings from demonstration projects done within the framework of REELIH.
It was a pleasure for me to learn that the two Members of the European Parliament (the Greens/EFA) who were hosted and actively participated in the conference were from Hungary – a country in the Central European region where energy poverty is not yet much in the focus of public policy. Benedek Jávor highlighted the need of a common framework to measure energy poverty and pointed to the responsibility of EU Member States to tackle it. The EU-level directives are also very important for tackling energy poverty and therefore the Commission should take steps when member states are not complying with their duties. Tamás Meszerics underlined the importance of linking small-scale, flexible interventions aiming at the most vulnerable households with the larger frames of energy policy and subsidy schemes in order to
guarantee that the most vulnerable people are permanently lifted out of their desperate circumstances.
For me, that was one of the most important messages of the conference.
The panel session organized around the question “How the current EU policies and the most recent Clean Energy Package respond to residential energy efficiency and reducing energy poverty?” brought up issues connected to energy poverty and it is very important to address them. I found highly interesting the debate about whether high energy efficiency standards are easy to meet thanks to the constant innovation in the field of materials and technology or the standards put too much pressure e.g. in Eastern European countries and make it difficult to launch renovations. Maarten De Groote (BPIE) highlighted that, for example, in the Netherlands 50% of savings in upfront cost occurred due to innovation and that additional savings in the healthcare and employment system have to be added to the picture. Barbara Streenbergen (IUT) highlighted the problems of ‘split incentives’ of renovations in the rental sector. Another problem lies in the fact that costs of renovation can be passed on rents thus making tenants pay for them. This might lead to a situation when energy costs become lower but higher rent after renovation makes housing more expensive. Orsolya Fülöp (Energiaklub) drew the attention to the fact that the Hungarian state mainly supports energy efficient renovations in the form of credits but the population is not willing to take up loans or has not enough savings to co-finance the upfront investments. Sophia Lynn (Ukraine Residential Energy Efficiency Project) brought to the discussion the very important factors that make renovations in Ukraine difficult, such as the lack of incentives for households to invest in renovation or the lack of basic infrastructure, e.g. measurement of consumption at a building level as well as the behaviour of consumers.
Finally the group discussion with ten other conference participants from different countries and with various backgrounds (NGOs, ministries, research, industry and banks) on how investing into residential energy efficiency could lead to reducing energy poverty in Eastern Europe showed me an incredible diversity of perspectives on the same issue. The most important takeaways from the discussion for me were that when investing into energy efficiency it is important to keep the balance to ensure that interventions take the most vulnerable groups into account. At the same time it is important to cover the largest possible range of buildings to reach efficiency and CO2 reduction goals.
||Anna Zsófia Bajomi holds a Masters in Social Policy from the Eötvös Lóránd University of Budapest in Hungary. She has worked at the Municipality of Budapest on the Social Urban Rehabilitation Thematic Development Programme for local stakeholders, and at the office of Tamás Meszerics at the European Parliament. Her field of research is housing and energy poverty especially energy poor tenants, grass root initiatives and good practices tackling housing and energy poverty. She worked on Social Rental Agencies, and studied other innovative housing solutions at the Programma Housing of the Compagnia San Paolo in Turin, Italy, in the frame of the Erasmus For Young Entrepreneurs Program of the European Commission. Currently she works in Budapest for the Metropolitan Research Institute.