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Energy poverty in the EU

It is estimated that more than 50 million households in the European Union are experiencing energy poverty. This can have far-reaching adverse consequences for people’s health and wellbeing

By: EBR - Posted: Friday, September 14, 2018

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It is increasingly believed that the issue should be tackled with an integrated approach that goes beyond the previous method of Member States directly addressing the problem by raising household income through social tariffs, social welfare subsidies and regulated energy prices.
It is increasingly believed that the issue should be tackled with an integrated approach that goes beyond the previous method of Member States directly addressing the problem by raising household income through social tariffs, social welfare subsidies and regulated energy prices.

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by Martin Banks


These, according to the EU Energy Poverty Observatory include “respiratory and cardiac illnesses, and mental health, exacerbated due to low temperatures and stress associated with unaffordable energy bills”. 

A debate in Brussels will highlight the role of regulators in addressing energy poverty in Europe.  

The workshop, co-hosted by the CEER, the Council of European Energy Regulators and FSR the Florence School of Regulation, the leading public EU think tank on energy issues, will explore the  drivers of energy poverty in Europe and governments’ role in addressing it, as well as the Clean Energy Package and what European energy poverty has in common with other parts of the world and ways of sharing best practice.

Energy poverty occurs when poor households experience inadequate levels of essential energy services, such as adequate warmth, cooling, lighting and the energy to power appliances.  

This specific form of poverty is due to a combination of high energy expenditure, low household incomes and inefficient buildings and appliances, and specific household energy needs. 

Energy poverty is becoming increasingly central to the activities of the European Union, as can be seen  by the European Commission’s legislative proposal Clean Energy for All Europeans announced on 30th November 2016. 

Energy poverty has traditionally fallen between several policy fields, such as the social, health, education, environment, financial and productivity realms. 

It is increasingly believed that the issue should be tackled with an integrated approach that goes beyond the previous method of Member States directly addressing the problem by raising household income through social tariffs, social welfare subsidies and regulated energy prices. 

This had largely worked in the short term but is not generally considered to be viable in the longer term, with critics believing it does not address the deeper causes.

The debate about energy poverty increasingly leads to a discussion about energy efficiency.  The phrase “the cheapest energy is the energy we do not use” is often put forward to explain that a greater emphasis should be placed on energy efficiency, in particular housing insulation. 

Eliot Whittington of the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Groups explains: “A staggering 97% of European building stock is not currently energy efficient. With buildings responsible for over a third of the EU’s CO2 emissions, this represents unconscionable waste, real suffering for those in energy poverty and a significant barrier to meeting the emission-reduction targets in the Paris Agreement on climate change.”

As the debate turns to energy efficiency and particularly affordable building insulation to decrease our energy use and therefore energy costs, the spotlight has also fallen on the quality of available insulation materials.  

In a report published in June by former European Parliament staffer Gary Cartwright drew attention to health concerns over a commonly used household insulation material, mineral wool.  

He explained: “There are concerns over health risks associated mineral wool, or MMVF, which is widely used in insulation in both commercial premises and private homes, by both professionals and homeowners. 

There is evidence of the carcinogenic hazards of mineral wool, or MMVF as it is also known, as attested by the WHO and IARC classification in 1988. The subsequent declassification in 2002 was based on tests carried out on products that did not accurately represent MMVF as they are used commercially and by consumers. There is therefore a clear and urgent need for retesting these products as they are used in practice.” 

So, whilst more and better insulation is a clear priority for increasing energy efficiency to tackle energy poverty and its health impacts, there is increasing awareness that careful attention should be paid to the same impacts of insulation material chosen.

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