Curbing fuel poverty in France: challenges ahead

fuel poverty, energy use, Grenelle, Philippe Pelletier, energy efficiency

© Calystee

Definition challenge: what is fuel poverty?

The diversity of its membership proved an advantage to the taskforce in providing an accurate interpretation of the issue. Philippe Pelletier, head of the strategic committee of the “Grenelle building plan” and author of the report, teamed up with a range of relevant players such as energy suppliers, banks, ADEME (French Agency for the Environment and Energy Management) and several NGOs such as the Fondation Abbé Pierre and Secours Catholique (Catholic relief).

For instance, members agreed on a quantitative definition of fuel poverty, pinpointing three factors:

  • Low incomes (making households vulnerable)
  • Poorly insulated housing
  • Energy prices

Overall it was decided that households experience fuel poverty insofar as they spend at least 10% of their income on energy at home (which thus does not include transportation). As a consequence of this 10% threshold, recognized as relevant by many experts, many families are experiencing fuel poverty, although they may not be aware of it.

Boost energy efficiency schemes already at hand

Though experts stressed the importance of existing government schemes aimed at supporting families struggling to pay their bills (Housing Solidarity Fund, ‘social’ rate, housing allowances), such measures unfortunately will not do anything about housing insulation. That is why the taskforce has put a strong emphasis on one of the root causes of fuel poverty: renovation works are out of reach. The report calls for renewed financial assistance to address the problem at its source, for instance by offering a green energy voucher to households willing to make their home more energy efficient.

At the national level, it was agreed that an observatory be set up in March 2011 to oversee efforts to curb fuel poverty. Attached to the observatory of poverty and social exclusion (ONPES) and co-chaired by ADEME, its focus is twofold: tracking public and private financial assistance offered to households struggling with energy bills on the one hand, and assessing the situation, identifying causes, consequences and trends on the other hand.

Another point in the report asked that a legal framework for fighting fuel poverty be enshrined in legislation. Following this recommendation, the first chapter of the “Grenelle II Act” established a list of steps to improve housing energy efficiency (articles 1 to 12). Finally, in 2010 the French government decided to set up a national fund for private housing insulation as part of its “big loan” (grand emprunt) spending plan

Besides, local authorities continue to seek expertise from specialized NGOs. In September 2012, French members of parliament received Catholic Relief representatives and learned that the charity’s financial assistance to households experiencing fuel poverty increased by 87% between 2004 and 2011. Although this first set of initiatives alone can’t solve the problem, it raises awareness and encourages media coverage.  In the long run, only by undertaking major retrofit projects will we be capable of curbing a social ill that has remained marginal so far in the developed world.

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Image : © Calystee

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