Smart approaches to ending energy poverty

Millions of people worldwide endure energy poverty, with their health and well-being suffering as a result. A new European network is helping researchers and policymakers to develop a common approach to improving energy access, and empowering at-risk consumers.

In Europe alone,  more than 50 million households  – nearly 11 % of the population – struggle to keep their homes warm, access hot water, pay their energy bills on time or live in damp-free homes. While many groups are working to address this problem, progress has been limited due to differences in how they approach the issues.

In response, the COST-funded network European Energy Poverty: Agenda Co-Creation and Knowledge Innovation (ENGAGER) brings together more than 60 organisations from over 30 countries to develop a shared understanding of energy poverty. 

The network is also designing methods to identify and assist people at risk, along with training materials to help consumers influence decision-makers and access more affordable energy.

Energy poverty is a hidden inequality but it impacts every country in the world. Measures to reduce this inequality improve lives ,” says the network’s chair, Professor Stefan Bouzarovski of the University of Manchester.

Properly heated homes can help children perform better at school, and reduce winter deaths, he notes. Measures also save money – for individuals, utility companies and wider society – and improve energy efficiency, reducing society’s carbon footprint, he adds.

Launched in 2017 to run for four years, the network includes participants from research organisations, national and regional authorities, businesses and consumer advocacy groups. 

There is strong representation across constituents ,” says Bouzarovski. “Our name reflects what we do. We engage!”

Connected action

Existing EU actions already address some energy poverty issues, such as the  Energy Performance in Buildings Directive  under the  Energy Union  strategy. In January 2018, the European Commission also launched the  EU Energy Poverty Observatory , which catalogues and shares data on energy poverty. 

ENGAGER will reinforce this, adding in networking, ” says Bouzarovski, who also chairs the Observatory. 

Conferences and workshops will be a big part of its work, as will funding for short-term research exchanges for young scientists. With members from diverse fields, such as energy studies, economics, sociology and consumer advocacy, the network’s remit is wide. 

We will explore the issue beyond simple access to fuel, to areas such as climate or adapting policy to urban settings, ” he says.

Members will also investigate the impact on consumers of environmental, technological and regulatory developments, like smart systems that use pricing to regulate energy demand. 

“Energy is about how we organise  our society. We want to investigate whether regulation includes all voices, ” says Bouzarovski. “ The big challenge is ‘hard to reach’ people .” 

To reach a wider audience, ENGAGER will develop toolkits and manuals for training consumers to talk with decision-makers, get help and switch providers, if needed. 

Network participants will also carry out targeted work. For example, a group of activists and researchers based in Barcelona focuses on disconnections. 

Bouzarovski says: “This will make unheard voices louder.”

He encourages more organisations to join the network: “ We invite as much input as possible. We want to be the hub for bottom-up engagement on energy poverty.

View the Action

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European Energy Poverty Observatory

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Last updated: 06 June 2018 top of page