Helping low-income Croatian households save money on energy

Helping low-income Croatian households save money on energy
PHOTO: UNDP

In a single afternoon, Miroslav Horvat and his family received the advice and equipment they needed to save them hundreds of euros each year. Energy advisors from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) installed energy-saving light bulbs, applied adhesive tape to their windows to prevent heat loss, and shared other low-cost measures to reduce energy use, all free of charge. These changes should reduce the family’s energy consumption by 30-40%, yielding savings that will bring a real improvement in their daily lives. Miroslav, who is employed as a security guard, is the only family member with a regular salary. The only other source of income for his five-member family is a maternity payment, which his wife Natalija receives for their six-year old son, who has cerebral palsy.

“Instead of paying for inefficient energy use, we can use this money for school, for the kitchen or for much-needed medicine,says Miroslav. After living in a 20 square-meter apartment (at times without electricity), last year they moved into a solid apartment rented by the City of Zagreb. They finally got the living space they needed so badly, but their initial enthusiasm quickly gave way to concern about higher living costs. Once their energy costs started to rise and with no social assistance coming, their back was against the wall. “After I pay for my energy costs, half of my salary is already gone,” explains Miroslav.

Highlights

  • Recent research on energy affordability shows that two-thirds of Croatian households spend more than 10% of their income on energy bills.
  • Energy consumes 20% more of the average household budget than it did in 2008.

The Horvat family is just one of the many low-income households in Croatia that have been hit hard by the prolonged economic crisis and rising energy prices. Recent research on energy affordability shows that two-thirds of Croatian households spend more than 10% of their income on energy bills. Energy consumes 20% more of the average household budget than it did in 2008. And unemployment remains a major challenge, especially among young people, as every third young person aged between 15 and 29 years is unemployed.

Fortunately, help was at hand, at least for the Horvat family. Working with Caritas of Zagreb Diocese, which had witnessed the family's struggles, a team of energy advisors established by UNDP Croatia visited the family home. The visit was organized as a part of a UNDP initiative that is testing a European Union-wide approach to address energy affordability through energy-efficiency measures carried out by energy advisors.

The idea of using energy efficiency advisors to help low-income households comes from Germany, where a project first developed in Frankfurt in 2006 supports low-income households that are unable to cover energy costs. Rather than subsidising domestic energy usage, Frankfurt decided to train unemployed people as energy advisors to deliver a home-energy check to help low-income households save by becoming more energy-efficient.

This initiative aims to address three issues simultaneously: it can create jobs, reduce energy costs for low-income households and protect the environment,explains Zoran Kordic, one of the energy advisors from UNDP who visited the Horvat apartment.

The Croatian pilot for this initiative was launched in Požega, a city in the Croatian county with the worst combination of high unemployment and high energy prices. So far, a training course for energy advisors has been developed and a network of local partners built to identify and assist low-income households. Good teamwork among local stakeholders is crucial because the energy advisors may be employed by the city community centre or co-financed through employment promotion measures for young and unemployed persons through the national employment service. If the project goes ahead, low-income households would be selected by social welfare centres, or similar local organisations, while the energy advisors could promote their services further in local energy efficiency-information centres.

The UNDP team is currently seeking funding to expand the initiative beyond the promising results of the pilot. The Horvat family is living proof of the potential benefits.