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New ways to tackle fuel poverty: successful approaches and what works in Romania

25 June 2018

In Romania alone, it is estimated that nearly 20% of citizens live in energy poverty, while about 460,000 households do not have formal access to energy. There are between 50 and 125 million people in Europe who struggle every day to ensure adequate thermal comfort and household power at an affordable price. Ashoka Romania and Enel Romania presented for the first time in Romania solutions that have already resulted in increased quality of life for people who cannot afford or have no access to modern energy services (electricity, heating, natural gas, etc).

Corina MurafaAt the Bucharest event, four of the founders of innovative solutions to combat energy poverty in Great Britain, Belgium, Germany and Spain analyzed the potential of adapting these models to the situation in Romania.

Opening the workshop, Corina Murafa (Ashoka Romania Country Director) talked about energy poverty she described as a phenomenon occurring at the intersection of: low family incomes, high energy bills and low energy efficiency. Specialty literature identifies three types of approaches for reducing energy poverty: financial measures, non-financial measures and structural measures. For Romania, a study launched in 2017 by the Center for the Study of Democracy, coordinated by Corina Murafa as Project Director, proposed “integrated measures to address the phenomenon not only in the short term, but also aiming for a sustainable solution.”

In addition to macro approaches at national and EU level, bottom-up solutions have been tested in many EU countries where social innovators have contributed to reducing energy poverty.

Older appliances are energy thieves

Stefan Goemaere from Belgium created Samenlevingsopubouw, a project destined to people with debts suffering from fuel poverty. Because of these debts, they cannot replace their old appliances for energy saving ones and they continue to have expensive energy bills. Samenlevingsopubouw is a lease/rent system where people can rent energy saving appliances and reduce their energy bills. For 8 euros/month, beneficiaries can rent Bosch appliances thus reducing their energy consumption by two thirds, in a region where the power price is 0.36 euro per kWh for customers in debt to their last resort supplier, explained Stefan Goemaere.

No home without energy

Cecilia Foronda, from Spain, presented the ECODES project “No home without energy” which offers information and consultancy for helping beneficiaries to overcome fuel poverty. ECODES runs a website offering a questionnaire that manages to gather social, household, and energy contract data from vulnerable people and returns a personalized report with advice on how to reduce energy consumption and energy costs. It also offers an interactive map that allows anyone to find initiatives and subsidies to tackle fuel poverty in their city or region. In a country with 16% of the population in energy poverty (6.8 million), the program managed to help over 2,000 people to achieve 30% energy savings on average, which is over 150 euro/month gain from cutting energy costs.

Information and understanding for preventing power cuts

Thomas Schelleberg, from Germany, explained the concept of the North Rhine-Westphalia Tackles Fuel Poverty” project, which offers budget and legal advice free of charge in combination with energy saving consultation for customers threatened by fuel poverty. Germany confronted with 370,000 cuts power and gas supply in 2017, said Thomas Schelleberg. He showed how strong cooperation among authorities and energy supply companies allowed for preventing 81% of power cuts and helped that in 60% of the situations the energy cuts to be revoked, thus securing permanent energy supply to the households affected.

Energy as a shame free conversation

Claire Mains, Energy Team Manager at Plymouth Energy Community in UK, described how they helped local people and organizations in Plymouth (over 200,000 inhabitants, South-West England) to transform how they buy, use and generate power in the city. Through working with a number of energy related organizations they have created the tools and relationships to help the community achieve three core energy goals: reducing energy bills and fuel poverty, improving energy efficiency and generating a local green energy supply in the city. “One of our primary aims was to raise awareness and help the local community understand more about their options and to give them the knowledge and power to take action to change their own energy future, in a shame free conversation about energy poverty”, she said.

There are great differences in the situation in Romania when compared to those in any other European country, all participant at the workshop agreed; however, the case studies presented provided all present with useful insights on how to improve social innovation to tackle fuel poverty here. Conversations allowed for a rich exchange of information on, among others, how to ensure the financial sustainability of such ideas, on how to obtain and to increase the stakeholders engagement, on how to measure the social impact and how to organize and drive forward the team.

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