Zoom-in
Edit 15 September 2023
by Marta García París, UIA expert

Tailor-made solutions to tackle energy poverty through household renovation: the case of EPIU

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Multiple benefits are associated with renovation including providing benefits from an economic and environmental perspective. However, renovation actions can also lead to improved health, better comfort, improved air quality, better social inclusion and better quality of life. Renovation efforts aimed at improving living conditions can also extend beyond individual households; they encompass the transformation of dwellings and entire neighbourhoods. In adopting a holistic approach, renovations can create a positive domino effect, improving the quality of life not only for individual households but also for communities.

The quality of dwellings is one of the causes of energy poverty and with nearly 34 million Europeans unable to afford to heat their homes properly, renovation also tackles energy poverty. However, barriers such as high upfront costs, lack of information and trust, uncertainty about benefits of the measures, split incentives, and discomfort caused by renovation make energy renovations complex. When dealing with people suffering a situation of vulnerability there is not one unique solution.  Tailor-made solutions in renovation are therefore highly relevant.

EPIU project led by the Getafe City Council, has been testing tailored solutions for renovations on vulnerable districts at different scales (housing-dwelling-neighbourhood). This 'Zoom-in' aims to analyse this aspect to emphasize the importance and effectiveness of implementing tailor-made solutions while tackling energy poverty.

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Energy poverty is not a one-size-fits-all problem as challenges vary across different regions, households, or neighbourhoods. Exposure, personal conditions, and resilience as factors of vulnerability make energy poverty a multifaceted challenge that requires specific approaches.

Energy poverty occurs at the household level and responds to a combination of contextual and personal factors. Contextual factors refer to the geographical location, climate, dwelling, type, available heating/cooling equipment or the broader geopolitical aspects affecting energy prices. Personal factors such as age, health, status or household composition and other socio-economic elements can exacerbate the situation.

Both, contextual factors, and personal factors can affect potential interventions to tackle energy poverty. For example, a family in a situation of vulnerability may require different solutions if they live in a flat compared to a house or if they live in a softer climate versus more harsh climate conditions. If someone in the household lives with health issues such as a chronic disease. This can also impact potential interventions. Energy poverty therefore requires tailor-made solutions that recognize the diverse nature of the problem and account for the specific needs, challenges, and contexts of each community. By empowering local communities, considering affordability, and integrating energy access within broader development strategies, a lot can be done to address energy poverty and create a more sustainable and equitable future for all.

One of the innovations within EPIU project, is to intervene and consider tailor-made solutions. This report summarizes the specific solutions in the context of Getafe.

The project proposes tailor-made solutions beyond the household level as comfort can be modified also by intervening at the scale of the dwelling scale or at the neighbourhood level.

Urban scales refer to the various levels of analysis and organization used to understand and plan municipalities. These scales encompass a range of dimensions, from individual households, buildings and neighbourhoods to entire regions. Examining urban areas at different scales is essential for understanding the complexities and dynamics of urban systems and for devising effective strategies to address urban challenges. In a context of tackling energy poverty, there are three significant levels: household, dwelling and neighbourhood.

Energy interventions for people experiencing vulnerability focus on improving their comfort level while reducing energy costs. Planning some actions at household level will reduce energy demand for sure, but intervening at dwelling and neighbourhood level would have an impact too.

During the implementation phase in EPIU, tailored-made solutions have been proposed at different scales. The following sections delve deeper into this topic.

1. Preliminary adaptation:

Carrying out the necessary upstream interventions to make the implementation of subsequent solutions (those directly linked to energy poverty) feasible such as:

- Correction of possible minor structural problems.

- Elimination of dampness and its underlying cause

- Painting of walls

- Incorporation of mechanical ventilation in spaces with deficiencies (such as bathrooms without windows).

2. Interior insulation of vertical and horizontal walls.

3. Change or improvement of carpentry.

4. Room-shelter: Delimitation of a sector of the dwelling to generate an isolated space both from the outside and from other rooms of the dwelling with different thermal requirements.

5. Low-impact strategies in summer: Implementation of low-cost solutions such as solar or incorporation of vegetation in windows as an evaporative cooling strategy.

7. Low-impact strategies in winter: Implementation of low-cost solutions such as insulating paint.

8. Sealing of openings

9. Redistribution of house spaces: Change of the distribution of house spaces to optimize the capture of energy from sunlight or ventilation.

10. Improvement of installations: Improve thermal installations or replacement of existing ones with others that are more efficient.

11. Replacement of household appliances:

12. Energy efficiency kits including bulbs or smart meters.

13. Raising awareness on how to reduce energy demand.

14. Energy bill optimization: Review by a technician of the energy bill of each household to analyse the energy contracts and tariffs.

15. Socio-energy audit in households to identify where to reduce energy demand and improve comfort.

16. Energy metering: Implementation of a set of sensors in a household, that would adapt thermostats or lighting to an optimum temperature for example.

A deep energy renovation process has been considered as a solution at dwelling level within EPIU project.

This includes refurbishment work that aims to achieve all or some of the following results:

a) Adequacy of the building envelope.

b) Adaptation of thermal installations.

c) Improvement of energy management.

d) Implementation of renewable energies.

For the prioritization of these actions, an initial audit is proposed as well as the necessary studies.

Intervening at neigborhood level, outside the boundaries of households has an impact too as it can affect comfort levels.  Within EPIU, two urban interventions are developed to improve the external thermal conditions of the immediate surroundings of the dwellings, incorporating strategies to  mitigate the urban heat island in their design.

In addition to the architectural interventions, raising awareness actions have also been planned to inform on the effects of not living at an adequate temperature. The aim of the intervention is to improve the comfort conditions of dwellings by reducing the temperature in the immediate environment in night and daytime summer conditions.

A catalogue of best options for an efficient renovation is only part of the process. A critical and difficult part is to design the process so that the selected pack of measures (a window, an insulation material…) reaches a specific household and not another. In fact, EPIU has dedicated more resources to the process itself.

A tailor-made energy renovation tries to address different obstacles:

  • Household users do not necessarily have technical knowledge.  Tailor-made solutions present a specific intervention in each case, so the user does not have to decide the best technical solution. It must be accompanied bymanaging expectations of the user, but services such as the EPIU energy office (OHS) in Getafe are a good instrument to support the acceptance of the tailor-made solution.

  • Traditional public financial support such as renovation grants are not enough to unblock an energy renovation process and present other limitations such as short deadlines or technical constraints. With a tailor-made solution process, such as the one tested in EPIU, control, specificity and flexibility make the process more effective.

To renovate a household is a complex process. By following a tailor-made solutions programme indirectly implies more support to the user which is essential.

EPIU project is reaching its end and, one of the successful innovations has been to intervene considering these tailor-made solutions in vulnerable districts. Although measures have been implemented mostly at the end of the project and it is too soon to evaluate the impact, it is highly probable that beneficiaries will have increased their comfort thanks to these measures.

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