Article: The keywords to alleviate energy poverty? Trust and cooperation


The keywords to alleviate energy poverty? Trust and cooperation


The burden of energy costs on households is pervasive. Energy poverty has a strong impact on the quality of life, whereas it also paves the way for more fundamental challenges to economies and the environment. It is a silent yet rapidly progressing phenomenon, as we embarked upon a process of transforming our economies into sustainable and clean systems. It is also a phenomenon of high complexity, as it is both a result and a cause, with externalities both nationally and across state borders, involving energy policies, but the healthcare system, the construction sector, the labor market, welfare policies, and the economy as a whole. Its manifestations are specific from one region to the other. Despite the lack of consensus with regard to measurement, reality has proven that there is a wide room for action and that good practices amount, whereas the potential for innovation remains untapped.

While there is no general remedy to cause massive and rapid transformations, there is capacity for small and powerful change. The principles that lay at the basis of change are common and are based on steady dialogue, mutual trust, inclusiveness, and engagement of all stakeholders, accountability, cross-sectorial learning.

All European states (both EU and non-EU) deal with energy poverty in their national public policies. At the European level, it is considered a policy objective of the Energy Union and the ‘Clean Energy for all Europeans’ legislative package. Moreover, the European Commission has committed substantial financial support for developing meaningful research.

In a time of growing challenges to democratic regimes across Europe, multi-dimensional topics, especially those with considerable social sonority, play easily into the hands of some politicians who display fractional images of reality, leading to the enactment of measures that are attractive to voters on the short-term, but which are unsustainable and distorting the long-term and with regard to the national economy in general. The development and energy poverty action toolkit is essential to equip institutions and decision-makers with tools to provide better policies and responses, and to society at large (NGOs, the media and the public opinion) to prevent misconduct. The effective dissemination of such tools, of good and bad practices is therefore just as important as their development.

Beyond the need for conceptual and instrumental clarity, there is a need to understand the practical variations in the occurrences of energy poverty depending on the various economic, social, to some extent historic and cultural, but also political and institutional contexts and legacies. Therefore, beyond the need to cause agreement there is a need for well-tuned implementation based on the realities on the ground. These variations will not only help us understand that there is no single recipe to fight energy poverty, but they can also ease the transfer of good practices between regions that face similar challenges.

So far, action in the field of energy poverty has been promoted at either a EU or a Member State level. However, taking action at levels, which deviate from the traditional national or European approach, is more suitable. The more locally one acts, the easier it becomes to cause synergies between stakeholders, to find agreement, to act within a common framework, to design suitable solutions, to find the necessary resources and maximize results. Beyond national borders, a macro-regional approach would allow for more suitable answers in terms of historic heritage, market, structural and societal models.

It is important to judge the efficiency of measures against a quantification of results. All too often action is taken without following up on its impact, which brings uncertainty and inconsistency into the process of policy--making. In order to determine weather an action has been effective or not, it is essential to know in what respect the efforts and resources involved have reached their goal, what can be done to optimize for results and to compensate for the side-effects produced. Results also need to be transparent as a principle of public accountability. This can be a safeguard against fraud. Also, funding, which is an important topic in the discussion on fighting energy poverty, becomes available based on the principles of transparency and attainment of results.

More attention to the topic has also been awarded nationally with some Member States having even elaborated energy poverty definitions or complex indices while others are becoming increasingly willing to address the topic. In the process of building up a robust and liberalized energy market it is only natural to be concerned with those who are being sidelined by the process, which takes additional political commitment. Coordination and cooperation on the topic is fledgling and hopefully willingness to address the issue will increase even more in the near future.

Moreover, hope remains that it will not take any longer until measurement instruments will be developed beyond what is the ability to keep houses warm and go into other features of energy poverty. They would be a tool that would help us comprehend the magnitude of the phenomenon and its variations across regions in order to support the enactment of suitable policies. It should, however, be noted that action cannot be delayed in expectation of a definition and measurement instruments. Neither can these be developed void of action. There are doorstep measures that can be enacted in order to curtail the deterioration of the situation. There are already policies in place with regard to retrofitting, social aid, reduction of consumption, etc. Of course, optimization of results will be reached through refined definitions and instruments, and this should be an ambition in itself, but their development should happen in association with action. Beyond what Member States come up with to help them better regulate and absorb the issue at national level, more sophisticated instruments should be embraced at EU level in order to secure a better general framework for cooperation and comparison, concerted action, exchange of good practices, and for further scientific innovation. Mechanisms to collect results and good practices at the level of the EU from the national arenas and the grassroots, should be constantly fine-tuned in order to feed in to policies and actions that are better anchored into reality and in that sense, more visionary. This way a sturdy way forward will be secured.

The development of a better framework with regard to energy poverty can benefit from cross-learning with other policy sectors, such as the telecom. Innovation was approached and integrated from three different perspectives: with regard to technology, the business model and political innovation. This does not only describe the types of efforts and actors that need to be approached in the process of generating innovation with respect to energy poverty, but also that all these efforts need to be blended together through mutual trust and a shared sense of vision. The public, private and non-for-profit sectors need to team their efforts together to bring forth results. This will pave the way for sharing know how, data, perspectives in order to create small and simple steps forward.

Steady dialogue is paramount to effective policy-making in the field of energy poverty. One-sided intervention (either just from state actors or only from the market) is unsustainable and obsolete. In theory and practice energy poverty has evolved as a field of synergies, proving that precise understanding and effective action can only happen where  diversity of stakeholders merge efforts. One side cannot possibly identify all ramifications of the issue, does not possess all resources to act and will more than certainly fail in action. Policies need to be inclusive, create as few as possible side effects for as few as possible actors and be visionary and anticipative in the long-term.

Written by: George Jiglau

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