The STEP project spans the European continent, with several partners based in Central and Eastern Europe, which is feeling the most immediate impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While the humanitarian crisis of course remains in the forefront of our minds, it is also important to consider the impact the war will have on energy in Europe.
There has been an energy crisis across Europe (and beyond) since autumn of 2021, which has worsened the situation for people in or at risk of energy poverty. This problem started with spiking demand for gas in light of a post-Covid economic surge. Now that Europe’s biggest supplier of gas has come under severe and justified sanctions, the energy crisis can be expected to worsen.
“One of our key concerns is that governments might go back on their responsibilities to the energy poor,” commented Petra Cakovska of Slovakian consumer organisation SOS. “Our ministry of finance recently announced measures to combat energy poverty, but it appears those funds will now be repurposed for national security and refugee support. It goes without saying that we support these initiatives, but it remains crucial that the most vulnerable members of society be protected.”
Meanwhile, European politicians have recognised that it’s high time to move away from Russian fossil fuels. Brussels-based STEP partner BEUC has welcomed the European Commission’s initiative to increase Europe’s energy independence, but highlights that even more can be done to push the transition to renewable energy and low carbon homes, while also including vulnerable consumers in the process.
“It’s really crucial that funding for renewable technologies be made available to those who can’t afford it themselves,” commented Eoin Kelly, energy policy officer at BEUC. “Financial schemes that cover the upfront costs of housing insulation and the rollout of renewable devices such as heat pumps need to reach vulnerable consumers, who otherwise will end up locked in a spiral of unaffordable and unreliable fossil fuels.”