Addressing safety and energy poverty to better protect vulnerable consumers
ADDRESSING SAFETY AND ENERGY POVERTY TO BETTER PROTECT VULNERABLE CONSUMERS INTRODUCTION by Benoît Dôme (Consultant, Fisuel)
In November 2016, the European Commission published the Clean Energy for All Europeans package to facilitate and accelerate the transition towards clean and affordable energy for EU consumers. While the package, currently being examined by the Council and the European Parliament, is aimed at boosting energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy independence, the Commission also attempts to address potential negative externalities of efficiency measures, protect vulnerable consumers and fight energy poverty. In response to concerns that the cost of energy efficiency measures is unfairly shifted to more vulnerable consumers , the Commission has been setting the necessary framework to:
- Reduce the costs of energy for consumers by supporting energy efficiency investments;
- Require Member States to implement energy efficiency measures as a priority in households affected by energy poverty and in social housing;
- Create an Energy Poverty Observatory (EPOV) to develop relevant indicators and map practices and task Eurostat to establish “statistics on inequality, poverty and material deprivation, energy and the environment”.
Poverty is a multifaceted problem that affects Europeans in various ways, hampering access to health, education, employment, energy and safety. Whereas the European Commission has decided to tackle energy poverty, it fails to address a closely related issue that also affects the energy poor: electrical safety.
VULNERABLE CONSUMERS FACING A DOUBLE PENALTY: ENERGY AND SAFETY POVERTY
Multiple statistical sources reveal that population segments suffering from safety poverty are the same segments affected by energy poverty. Households headed by young people (16-24), single parents, the elderly and households with lower income are running increased risk of facing this double penalty. Focusing their resources on covering basic needs, they are more likely to rent cheaper, older housing inappropriately maintained where adequate heating is difficult and electrical installations are obsolete (among other issues). Faulty electrical installations can result in human casualties, severe injuries, and material and financial damages. In the European Union, degraded or faulty electrical installations cause 32 home fires every hour—representing 20 to 30% of all domestic fires . Measures such as regular periodical inspections and upgrades to bring electrical installations up to safety standard, dramatically increase levels of electrical safety. While solutions exist, policy action is directly impeded by the lack of statistics about electrical fires and the fatalities, injuries and property loss these fires cause. Vulnerable segments of the population are not only more at risk to face energy poverty, they also run a higher risk of falling victim to domestic fires.
“The majority of the fire fatalities that occur are preventable—and this is certainly true for electricity”.
Consumer protection requires that we strive towards increased prevention and detection of fires, this should include a strong component of electrical safety and not merely consider the resistance aspect, once the fire has started.
SECURING EFFICIENT, SUSTAINABLE AND SAFE HOMES FOR EUROPEAN CONSUMERS
The electrification of energy systems, the increased use and multiplication of electronic and electric appliances are expected to put pressure on electrical installations in dwellings. The rapid ageing of the population is another factor illustrating the need to address energy poverty and electrical safety simultaneously. A growing share of the elderly will remain in their homes until higher age. These homes—even more so when affected by poverty—are less likely to undergo renovation or upgrade works, which increases the risk of electrical hazards and domestic fires. It is therefore paramount to ensure that residential electrical systems in homes are regularly checked and brought up to safety standards. The combination of these trends—the electrification of energy systems, the ageing of the population and the building stock—calls for attention and emphasize the need for measures to ensure a high level of electrical safety.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Elaborating adequate policy to address these two issues—energy poverty and electrical safety—is a necessity, but also a challenge. Even though awareness amongst policymakers is rising, more needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable European households, making energy affordable and homes safe. Creating indicators and gathering EU-wide statistical data would increase knowledge and provide a background and incentive for policy response. Therefore, the European Copper Institute and the Federation for the Safety of Electricity Users (Fisuel) support the idea that electrical safety should be part of the social dimension of EU energy policy, and be addressed together with energy poverty.
BEUC, Lower Energy Consumption, Lower Energy Bills, p. 4, March 2017 The EPOV is an EU-funded consortium led by the University of Manchester. Extension on Eurostat Strategic Plan 2018-2020 (awaiting Council 1st reading, adoption expected before the end of 2017) Fifth London Safety Plan, Targeting the most at risk from fire, p. 2, March 2013; Forum for European Electric Domestic Safety, White paper: Residential electrical safety, p. 6, May 2017; U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Socioeconomic Factors and the Incidence of Fire, p. 21, June 1997; Risicodifferentiatie woningbranden in Amsterdam-Amstelland, p. 17, October 2011, INSIGHT_E, Energy poverty and vulnerable consumers in the energy sector across the EU, May 2015 Base: 280 000/year, Forum for European Electric Domestic Safety, White paper: Residential electrical safety, May 2017 Mike Hagen, Chair of the European Fire Safety Alliance—Benoît Dôme, Consultant Fisuel.