Government pledges €76m to help people in energy poverty

15 Dec 2011

Ireland’s Government has committed to inject €76m into the re-opening of its Better Energy Scheme for 2012 via its new affordable energy strategy. The fund will be used to help upgrade the energy efficiency of an extra 17,000 low-income homes. There will also be a grant support for people who opt to retrofit their homes at their own expense.

The news comes in the wake of the past few months when the Government, specifically under the remit of Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, announced how it would be tackling Ireland’s energy poverty situation. The report, Warmer Homes: A Strategy for Affordable Energy in Ireland, has just been published by the Government.

The Government wants to avoid incidences of where people are literally left in the cold and the dark because they can’t afford electricity or fuel to heat and light up their homes due to three main reasons: house income, or lack thereof; the price of energy in an unstable global climate; and the energy-efficiency of homes, with many of Ireland’s current dwellings poorly insulated and needing to be retrofitted.

Rabbitte today said that during the coming year the scheme would fund measures to upgrade the energy efficiency of a further 17,000 low-income homes, as well as offering grant support to encourage many other home owners who will invest in the retrofitting of their own homes.

In its new report, Affordable Energy Strategy, the Government defines energy poverty as “a situation whereby a household is unable to attain an acceptable level of energy services (including heating, lighting, etc) in the home due to an inability to meet these requirements at an affordable cost.”

The report also has an extensive section on energy prices and affordability.

So how is the Government going to measure energy poverty?

Under the preliminary approach, the Government says a household is “considered to be experiencing energy poverty if, in any one year, it spends more than 10pc of its disposable income on energy services in the home.”

In the report, the Government says its approach will “estimate the overall number of households experiencing energy poverty in addition to indicating, on the basis of the available data, the types of households affected and the risk factors associated with energy poverty.”

The Government said, however, that this approach “may underestimate the extent of energy poverty as low-income households can under-heat their homes relative to the level that would be required based on healthy standards.”

Based on 2009 statistics, the Government has estimated that some 317,000 households experienced energy poverty in 2009, equivalent to more than one-fifth or 20.5pc of all households in the State.

“Of this total, it is estimated that over 151,000 households were experiencing severe energy poverty while over 83,000 were experiencing extreme energy poverty. These figures may underestimate the numbers in energy poverty, as some households under-heat their homes relative to international guidance on healthy standards of comfort,” according to the report.

Table 4: Risk of Energy Poverty for Typical Dwelling Types and Energy Efficiency Ratings – Annual Energy Expenditure as % of Household Disposable Income: Household with Income = 1/3 of Median Household Disposable Income*

Table 4: Risk of Energy Poverty for Typical Dwelling Types and Energy Efficiency Ratings - Annual Energy Expenditure as % of Household Disposable Income: Household with Income = 1/3 of Median Household Disposable Income*

Source: Analysis based on SEAI annual running cost estimates for domestic principal energy usage
Notes: * Where 1/3 of estimated annual median household disposable income in 2009 = €13,830 or €266 per week
** Shaded cells refer to households experiencing energy poverty based on annual running costs being greater than 10% of disposable income. Source: DCENR

Marital status and energy poverty

The report also indicated that marital status of a household’s “chief economic supporter” represents another risk factor for energy poverty.

“In particular, energy poverty is likely to be more closely associated with households where the chief economic supporter is married or cohabiting or, notably, with households consisting of a widowed person. A household comprising a widowed person has a 50.5pc chance of being in energy poverty. This finding is likely to be correlated with households comprising adults aged 65-plus, who are more likely to be widowed,” said the report.

Rabbitte was speaking today at an Institute of Public Health event to launch a research report entitled Fuel Poverty Older People and Cold Weather: An All-Island Analysis. He said that the Better Energy programme is designed to support the energy efficiency upgrades of 1m homes, businesses and public buildings.

“Since we reopened the scheme after last week’s Budget, there has been a strong flow of applications which will imply both healthier homes as well as a significant level of construction sector employment.”

For more information on energy poverty, as well the Government’s definition of sever energy poverty in Ireland right now, here’s a link to the report in full.

A comprehensive measure of energy poverty will also be devised by the Government using a new energy poverty modelling framework.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic