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How Renewable Heating and Cooling (RHC) can tackle energy poverty

Kostas Dasopoulos
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Joined: 2 years ago
Energy poverty is a situation where households are unable to afford proper indoor thermal comfort and is a widespread problem across Europe, as between 50 and 125 million[1] people are living under these conditions.
[See attached Figure: Spatial variation in energy poverty in terms of the inability to achieve adequate thermal comfort] [2]
The main causes of energy poverty are:
  • poor energy efficiency standards
  • high energy prices
  • low incomes and
  • bad residential energy management
The consequences of energy poverty include
  • poor housing conditions
  • poor physical and mental health
  • debts in the household’s bills
  • difficulties affording other essential services and goods
  • social isolation and
  • low educational attainment.
The multi-dimensional nature of energy poverty therefore requires actions across a wide range of policy areas and multi-agency approaches. In addition, climate change is expected to intensify the afflictions of the poor by demanding more from their limited access to resources and by increasing their energy needs[3]. Another aspect is the larger vulnerability of women due to their lower average income, which puts women at a greater risk of energy poverty than men[4]. Our world will become colder in the winter and hotter in the summer skyrocketing the cost for heating and cooling. Inadvertently, the need to decarbonise our economies is urgent in order to address climate change and mitigate its consequences for all, but even more than the rest, for the energy poor. Another aspect is the If EU doesn’t adopt explicit actions the distributional impact of energy poverty will further deepen.
In that respect the effective and swift implementation of the Clean Energy for All Europeans package[5] can reduce energy poverty across Europe and act, also, as an example beyond the EU borders. According to Article 7 of the revised Energy Efficiency Directive, Member States “shall take into account the need to alleviate energy poverty, in accordance with criteria established by the Member States and taking into consideration their available practices in the field”.
The discussion around the Energy Union represents a golden opportunity to set up and implement an effective and comprehensive EU RHC policy in line with long term climate and energy goals and based on energy efficiency and the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources (RES). The European Union [6] should:
  1. Develop a comprehensive heating and cooling strategy/action plan, ensuring the rapid transition to RHC technologies.
  2. Contribute to the development of RESCoops [7] which can reach out vulnerable and low-income households in order to:
    1. invest in ownership and cheap access to supply from RES so they can participate in the collective wealth generated
    2. invest in energy efficiency measures and building renovations to improve living conditions
    3. access advice on how to reduce consumption so they can reduce their energy bills
    4. assist citizens to become producers instead of only consumers
  1. Ensure that the solutions applied maximise the benefits and synergies of the application of both energy efficiency measures and RHC technologies, while also taking into account the potential synergies and benefits of integrating the heating/cooling and power sectors (additional storage capacities, use of excess power from wind and solar photovoltaic, and grid stabilisation).
  2. Reinforce the existing policy framework to enact tighter building standards and codes with the aim to significantly improve the energy performance of the building stock.
  3. Ensure that only highly efficient heating, cooling and ventilation systems are on the market. Inefficient combustion systems need to be replaced by new efficient technologies, based on RES.
  4. Promote a level playing field for RES, with effective policies and stable support mechanisms. This is needed namely to compensate for the substantial public investments - either direct or indirect - conventional energy sources have relied and still rely on, as highlighted again in a recent study for the European Commission.
  5. In order to move towards a 100% RHC sector, provide a policy framework that also aims at electrifying the sector, where appropriate.
  6. Tackle the higher upfront investment required for RHC, also taking into account their mostly decentralised and small-scale nature. Access to financing is indeed currently a huge barrier for the RHC sector, as it is also for energy-efficiency projects.
  7. Encourage the deployment of available and proven technologies for space and water heating, such as aerothermal and geothermal heat pumps, as well as solar thermal and biomass technologies, in order to tap their enormous potential.
  8. Introduce a cap to limit the use of biomass for energy to levels that can be sustainably supplied, ensure efficient and optimal use of biomass resources, in line with the principle of cascading use, include correct carbon accounting and introduce comprehensive binding sustainability criteria for biomass.
  9. Policy makers should also promote awareness, which means involving citizens in their energy choices and informing consumers but also local public authorities and installers - about available options.
  10. Last but not least, fully implement the existing legislation on both energy efficiency and renewable energy.

[3] Energy and Poverty in the Context of Climate Change, Background Papers Series 2012/17,

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