ASSIST at the 2nd Catalan Energy Poverty Congress

ASSIST at the 2nd Catalan Energy Poverty Congress

One of the ASSIST project activities is to organise events in the framework of EU conferences. On the 8th and 9th of November, Barcelona hosted the 2nd Catalan Congress on Energy Poverty that had 4 simultaneous congress rooms, one of which, was named after the ASSIST EU project.

The 2nd Energy Poverty Congress was coordinated by municipalities (Barcelona, Badalona, Sabadell), supra-municipalities authorities (Diputació de Barcelona and Area Metropolitana de Barcelona), municipal organisations (Associació Catalana de Municipis and Federació Catalana de Municipis), other organisations (Taula del Tecer Sector Social, Ecoserveis) and civil society (Aliança contra la pobresa energètica). This was the second edition and gathered more than 90 speakers and around 450 attendees that came from places as diverse as EU institutions, local municipalities, private energy companies (such as Naturgy) or global and local NGO’s (i.e. Greenpeace) and grassroots movements (i.e. SUARA who work protecting the rights of elderly people).

The program

In terms of content, the Congress had a total of 23 panels where between 3 and 5 speakers presented their projects and discussed over a main concept related to energy poverty. The panels content was as diverse as municipal initiatives to tackle energy poverty or energy poverty in the age of information. In addition to the panels, there were 4 main talks; one at the start and the other at the end of each of the two days. These were as follows: How we reached the current energy model and how it affects energy poverty (by Garcia Breva); The Enact project: giving space to energy-related life stories (by Marilyn Smith); The European Observatory on Energy Poverty (by Harriet Thomson); ENGAGER: Co-creation and innovation program for energy poverty in Europe (by Slavica Robic).

ASSIST roundtable

The ASSIST project organised a round table entitled From local to global: Tackling energy poverty in Europe with the following presentations moderated by Harriet Thomson, from the European Energy Poverty Observatory (EPOV): (1) Energy poverty initiatives in Europe (by Marine Cornelis, EU consultant); (2) From local action to Europe policy (by Maria Djeliazkova from the European Anti-Poverty Network, EAPN); (3) ASSIST project: Network and Action to tackle vulnerability together (by Marina Varvesi from Aisfor) and (4) EU energy poverty at local level: ASSIST implementation (by Marta Garcia from Ecoserveis).

The multiple faces of Energy Poverty

After a brief introduction from Harriet Thomson, Marine Cornellis started the round table arguing that energy poverty takes many different forms, situations and realities. It is in fact, as energy poverty is related to quality and the “type of the dwelling, energy price, complex tariffs and contracts, region, climate, support measures, social relations, personal history, belonging to a minority, income etc…”, and, she added; “Energy Poverty is often hidden which makes it, in these cases, hard to tackle. But knowing what energy poverty is, is just part of the challenge; the other one is knowing how to tackle it’s symptoms: “high bills, indoor air pollution, too warm, cold or leaking homes, damp, unaffordable bills, increased mortality, poor (mental) health and anxiety, loneliness, difficulties to learn, employment issues, mobility and transport issues, etc.”. According to Cornellis, the different actors involved in tackling energy poverty adopt two types of measures: (1) curatives: “treatment of (some of) the symptoms  (expensive bills)” and (2) preventive: “policies having a long term impact addressing energy efficiency”. Both types of measures have,(according to the consultant) their own limits, including bureaucracy and access to information.

A necessary network

After Cornellis, Maria Djeliazkova, from the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN), explained the involvement the network had in the H2020 ASSIST project, specifically in promoting an appropriate working mechanism for the fight against energy poverty at a European and a national level, and improving the political decision making process in order to generate effective consumer protection measures to cope with energy poverty and opportunities to address it. From her presentation, one can highlight the need to not only develop policy proposals that address energy poverty, but, to work on those that create it, otherwise the work can be counterproductive.

Trust: a key factor

Following Djeliazkova, Marina Varvesi went deeper into explaining the H2020 Assist project and explained to the audience that ASSIST presents an innovative model to tackle energy poverty to improve the living condition of vulnerable and energy poor consumers through a so called Household Energy Advisor (HEA) and the creation of a HEAs’ association. Varvesi went further and explained the barriers and solutions dealing with energy poor consumers, delivering energy advice, and engaging with stakeholders. Among the most relevant solutions, one can highlight the importance of direct contact with households through people they already know and trust. In that sense, what is important, is not only the information provided, but also who it is provided by.

Building on Varvesi’s presentation, Marta Garcia finally explained the importance of the “trust effect”, which is the centre of the ASSIST project. Garcia explained that training social workers to be Household Energy Advisor is an effective way to integrate energy efficiency habits into a household’s daily routine. As such, ASSIST, in Spain, trained: (1) 80 professionals of the Barcelona City Council Home Service Attention Office; (2) 11 professionals from the Maresme County Council and (3) 20 professionals that work at COCARMI, an organisation providing support to people with disabilities.

The debate after the speaker’s presentation focussed on how energy poverty also affects other areas of household’s lives and is hidden under situations where households, for instance, in order to pay their bills, they stop buying food. It is in these cases where trained social workers and other professionals that spend time with energy vulnerable consumers, can help unmask energy poverty situations.