Spain lays the foundations of its fight against energy poverty
The National Strategy against Energy Poverty 2019 - 2024 approved by the Spanish Government last March seeks to address a situation that affects between 3.5 and 8.1 million citizens, reducing at least 25% current indicators but seeking to reach 50%.
After the entry to the Government, the new executive of Pedro Sánchez was a turning point on what had been done so far and endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030 of the United Nations. During this time, and the one that will begin after the National Elections on April 28, the horizon proposed by this international organization, as well as its strategic vision, have been and will be foreseeably incorporated into all public and social policies to be implemented.
In a European and national context where it takes time promoting measures that favor access to clean energy for all people, while seeking protection, and with a transversal effect of the SDGs, the National Strategy against Energy Poverty seeks to "guarantee access to affordable, safe, sustainable and modern energy for all" (7), without leaving behind other goals that support its development: implementation of social protection systems (1.3), guarantee of access to basic services and resources financial (1.4), support sustainable and resilient infrastructures (9.a), adopt fiscal, wage and social protection policies (10.4), apply a framework of responsible consumption and production (12.1), strengthen the scientific and technological field for sustainability (12.a), incorporate climate change into policies, strategies and plans (13.2), create effective and transparent institutions (16.6) and promote technology s ecologically sound (17.7). In turn, this strategy has been supported by different frameworks for community and national normative and legislative action.
In order to address the reality of the problem, the strategy shows a diagnosis of the situation of energy poverty in Spain and Europe. To do this, it begins by establishing for the country a definition of energy poverty as "the situation in which a household finds itself in which the basic needs of energy supplies can’t be met, as a consequence of an insufficient income level and that, in his case, it can be aggravated by having an inefficient housing in energy". It also leaves the definition of vulnerable consumer in terms of energy.
From this perspective, the strategy will use the official indicators of the European Observatory against Energy Poverty (EPOV) to parameterize the different situations of energy poverty. In the first place, disproportionate energy expenditure, considering this as the percentage of households whose energy expenditure in relation to their income is more than double the national median. Secondly, hidden energy poverty, that is, the percentage of households whose absolute energy expenditure is less than half the national median. Third, the inability to maintain the home at an adequate temperature, measured by the percentage of the population that can`t maintain their home at an adequate temperature. In fourth and last place, the delay in the payment of invoices for housing supplies. These indicators, considered primary, are obtained from the data of the Survey of Living Conditions (SLC) and the Survey of Family Budgets (SFB) prepared by the National Institute of Statistics (NIE).
Futhermore, in order to carry out a real characterization at the Spanish level with the consequent possibility of carrying out comparative analyzes at European level, the indicators take into account the pronounced climatic diversity of Spain, as a consequence of its geographic location and orography. For this, the Technical Building Code (CTE) is used, which establishes the Climate Zoning according to the weather severity in winter. On the other hand, to refine and price the analysis and measure the specific circumstances of energy poverty in order to adapt the measures to the particularities of social groups and / or consumer typology, the strategy uses a series of variables that complement the information obtained from the surveys used to collect the indicator data. These variables are: the size of the household, the income quintile per consumption unit, the activity situation and the type of household.
The result of this analysis is a detailed diagnosis of the situation of energy poverty in Spain according to which, depending on the indicator used, there are between 3.5 and 8.1 million citizens who suffer (between 7.4% and 17.3% of the population). In addition, it shows a comparison by Autonomous Community, direct health conditions and especially vulnerable population groups. With the aim of reversing this scenario, the objective of the strategy is to reduce, at least, 25% all the indicators for the year 2025, but with the ambition of reaching 50%. Therefore, it proposes, from four axes, 19 measures to fight against this situation whose function, execution, financing, duration and responsible body is detailed.
The first axis, called "improving knowledge about energy poverty", includes three measures aimed at updating and periodically calculating energy poverty indicators and conducting a more complete study of the minimum energy expenditure required by consumers according to the area climate in which they inhabit. According to the strategy, "the periodic calculation of the indicators is essential to know the evolution of energy poverty in Spain and the impact of the actions and measures contemplated." The realization of the study is very relevant given the difference in energy consumption between different Spanish areas and the disparity in energy expenditure between cities according to the level of climatic severity and the constructive characteristics of the homes in each region, which "implies that the measures to fight against energy poverty should consider the economic effort that vulnerable consumers must make to achieve thermal comfort”.
Secondly, with the aim of improving the response to the current situation, the strategy includes the redesign of subsidy mechanisms such as the social bond for electricity and the social thermal bond. In this sense, it prioritizes three aspects: the universality of supply sources, automation and coordinated management with other public administrations. From this perspective, the measures to be taken focus on the creation of a comprehensive aid (both electric and thermal), in the simplification of its granting through the direct verification of the requirements by a public administration that collects information from all agencies involved, avoiding the consumer the processing of the request, and the coordination of all administrations involved in the implementation of the aid. At the same time, the minimum vital supply that will consist of the impossibility of the interruption of the household supply during a period of four months additional to that currently granted by the regulations is created. In addition, the third of the measures within this axis refers to the protection of consumers in extreme weather situations in which the interruption of the energy supply will be prohibited.
The third axis is dedicated to energy efficiency and rehabilitation and seeks to create a structural change for the reduction of energy poverty. It is very important to highlight the relevance of its inclusion given the situation of Spanish residential park where more than half of the homes were built before 1980 with very low efficiency criteria and mostly inhabited by vulnerable people, which exponentially influences the increase in energy poverty in the home. Therefore, the first of its measures promulgates an express rehabilitation program in housing as a short-term measure. To subsequently define measures in the medium and long term such as the promotion of the public housing stock in rents with subsidy for energy supply expenses for especially vulnerable groups, the substitution of equipment for another more energy efficient and the integral rehabilitation of buildings . In addition, it includes other measures that could be approved derived from the analysis of the long-term Strategy for Energy Rehabilitation in the Building Sector in Spain.
Lastly, the fourth axis is aimed at measures to protect consumers and social awareness. It includes measures such as the preparation of a protocol to detect situations of energy poverty by primary care professionals of the Spanish public health system, giving them the required relevance to face situations of this type; promote the creation of a database that homogenized the information derived from the management of the different public economic benefits; establishment of mechanisms of awareness and generation of collective conscience on energy poverty; the creation of a government website as an informative reference point; communication actions on the use of smart meters; information on consumption habits, energy saving and improvement of energy efficiency; and, finally, the establishment of a permanent communication channel on the novelties in the matter to the interested subjects and groups.
However, despite the strength and transversality that we want to show with this strategy, it is necessary to point out the observance of certain weaknesses such as, for example, that within the measures proposed in each of the axes, the body or level is referenced administrative that will be responsible for its implementation does not exist a specification in the amounts necessary according to the budget items. On the other hand, there is also a manifest lack of encouragement and obligation towards electricity companies operating in the Spanish market in terms of their contribution, participation and financing in the measures proposed. In addition, the novelty and incorporation of new performance measures has also been relegated to the background with the redefinition of existing ones or the non-incorporation of any novelty in these terms.
Although the results that the strategy obtains will not be known until the end of the execution period of the same, with the consequent final evaluation, it is necessary to value the participatory, open and plural process, from which it has been drawn up. With a prior public consultation and a period of allegation after the publication of the draft are numerous actors who have collaborated in its development, including civil associations, business associations, energy sector companies, local governments, regional and public agencies, NGOs, humanitarian organizations and foundations, individuals, unions, professional associations and universities. After all, in order to give an effective, real and complete response to a problem, a transversal participation of all the actors and groups involved is necessary. However, the future will be the one who finishes defining it.