According to new figures of an EU-wide survey published by Eurostat, 6.9 per cent of the EU population, more than 30 million people cannot afford to heat their homes. This share peaked in 2012 and has fallen continuously in subsequent years, however, the problem is still present in Europe. The pandemic-induced lockdowns that force people to stay inside their homes could magnify the negative impacts of energy poverty on the most vulnerable.
The situation in the EU countries varies. The largest share of people who said that they could not afford to keep their home adequately warm was recorded in Bulgaria (30.1 per cent), followed by Lithuania (26.7 per cent), Cyprus (21.0 per cent), Portugal (18.9 per cent) and Greece (17.9 per cent). In contrast, the lowest shares (around 2 per cent) were recorded in Finland, Austria, Sweden, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Estonia and Germany.
The data highlights that energy poverty is still a widespread problem across Europe, as more than 30 million Europeans are unable to afford to keep their homes heated. Energy poverty can be correlated with low household income, high energy costs and energy inefficient homes.
In its recommendation drafted in October last year, the European Commission underlined that addressing the issue of energy poverty would bring multiple benefits for the society, including lower spending on health, reduced air pollution (by replacing heating sources that are not fit for purpose), improved comfort and wellbeing and improved household budgets. Being such a complex issue, addressing energy poverty requires a complex approach and well-defined policy measures focusing on income increase, fuel prices regulation and energy efficiency improvements in buildings.
So far the majority of national schemes to reduce energy poverty focused on income support schemes such as fuel, heating and electricity subsidies, while renovation measures of energy-poor homes could address the essence of the problem through reduced energy costs, improved thermal comfort and better indoor air quality.
The Renovation Wave strategy is intended to be a centrepiece of improving the energy performance of buildings aiming to renovate 35 million buildings by 2030. A large-scale structural renovation would help boost EU efforts in climate change mitigation, as buildings are responsible for about 40 per cent of the EU’s energy consumption and 36 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from energy.
National governments have the responsibility to monitor and tackle energy poverty with effective policy measures. Under the revised version of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, EU Member States must outline relevant national measures to help alleviate energy poverty, as part of their long-term renovation strategies.
The COVID-19 crisis has turned the spotlight on the urgency of addressing energy poverty as the home has been the focal point of daily life for millions of Europeans. The confinement measures adopted by national governments have made the energy needs of residential consumers grow while unemployment is on the rise. Against this background, it is vital to act quickly to address a problem that concerns the daily life of millions of Europeans.