Combating fuel poverty in 2015

electricity consumption, energy efficiency, energy savings, fuel poverty, housing

While the winter cold causes energy demand to rise, access to energy remains a luxury for many French people. In an effort to mitigate fuel poverty, the energy efficiency sector offers both technical solutions to immediately cut energy bills and strategic directions for energy policy.

Studies reveal scope of fuel poverty

According to Stephan Silvestre, professor at ESG Management School and expert in energy risks, “a harsh winter can drive up heating bills by 30 to 40%, all energy sources considered”. In an article published online, he mentions a study conducted by French polling company Ifop, according to which the French pay an average 897€ for heating every year: cold temperatures can therefore cost them an extra 270 to 360 euros yearly.

In March 2014, five researchers at the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI), including Ferenc Fodor and Dominique Le Roux, published a book on fuel poverty in Europe. The authors pointed that there is currently “no accurate definition of household fuel poverty”. Analysts at the Paris urban planning institute contributed to a study by Réseau Action Climat (Climate Action Network) by comparing fuel poverty patterns in Seine-et-Marne (east of Paris), Rheinland Pfalz (western Germany) and Northern Ireland. Based on geographical, administrative and behavioural criteria, the study shows that there are “various kinds of fuel poverty, which should be treated simultaneously but with different tools”.

The latest joint report by the National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) and the Ministry of sustainable development takes a simplified approach and considers that 22% of French households are “fuel vulnerable”; although a universally recognized indicator has not yet been found, the concept of monetary fuel poverty is gaining ground. According to their works published in January 2015, 5.9 million households are affected by the issue, while 15% of the French “spend a high share of their income on heating”. A report by another body, the National observatory of fuel poverty, found that one in five French people could not always enjoy enough heat or light in their homes.

Energy efficiency’s technical solutions

In an article published in Le Monde in October 2014, Lucas Chancet and Mathieu Saujot from the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) expressed pessimism about the share of their income people will have to spend on heating in the future. The founder of Sénova, a consultancy specialized in housing and heating issues, is concerned by current policies as well as stagnant purchasing power and rising energy costs. However, there are offers on the market that specifically meet energy efficiency needs and whose potential has largely gone untapped.

During the Rexel Expo trade fair in June 2014, Rexel showcased all of its electrical efficiency instruments, which were designed to help installers as well as final users, in the residential as well as in the tertiary sectors. Such instruments include the ESABORA software, the home automation application Energeasy Connect and the Vesta tablet for energy audits. These products have been available to professionals and households alike since 2014.

The event was a timely initiative, as the OpinionWay poll carried out in the UK in 2013 showed that 89% of respondents said that promoting energy efficiency would require an easier access to products, and that 82% of them demanded more information on the advantages of such technologies and how to use them. This demand had already been pinpointed in 2011 by the Harris Interactive barometer that showed that 88% of French people expected electrical equipment manufacturers to provide such information.

Besides, 88% of respondents expected the government to support energy efficiency, while the Economic, Social and Environmental Council expressed fear that public efforts to foster energy efficiency might waver, in an opinion paper published in the Official Journal in 2013. Alain Saosnois, energy consultant for daily newspaper Les Echos, believes that falling oil prices should not slow down energy transition and energy efficiency policies, because of strong political will in the run up to the 21st United Nations climate conference.

According to the National Housing Agency (ANAH), direct aid to fund renovation works have increased by 24.5% over the past year. More precisely, 74,812 homes have been renovated, 49,831 of which as part of the “Habiter mieux” (Better Homes) programme for lowest-income households. On top of this national programme, local authorities are involved in improving the energy performance of the housing stock, for instance through the Local action plan for lower-income housing (PDALPD) or the Regional Climate, Air and Energy Scheme (SRCAE).

Furthermore, initiatives by non-profit organizations also contribute to reaching the goal set by Article 60 of the Energy Transition and Green Growth Bill, that is “protecting fuel-poor consumers”, such as the “local intervention services for energy control” (SLIME) coordinated by Cler (energy transition network), as well as the “Toits d’abord” (A roof first) programme by the Abbé Pierre Foundation.

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