Skip to content

REVERTER’s survey on the energy needs of households in Coimbra

Energy poverty situation has been aggravated by the pandemic and the consequent economic crisis and energy crisis. In this article, we take a closer look at energy poverty and its impact on the citizens, the main causes and possible solutions to improve the quality of life for those who have been affected by this issue.

According to the most recent statistics by Eurostat, in 2022, Portugal recorded the fourth highest rate in the European Union (17.5 %) of people who were unable to heat their homes properly, with the European Union average standing at 9.3%. Focusing on the Coimbra region, the percentage of population living in a dwelling with leaks, damp or rot is 2% higher than the national average, and the percentage of population not being able to keep home adequately warm also exceeds by 3% the national average.

Until recently, this problem has been mostly neglected by national decision and policymakers. A recent Nationwide study found that households may consider it normal and acceptable to feel both cold and hot at home, either in winter or in summer! This can hinder the social recognition of the EP problem and the need to tackle its negative consequences on the well-being and health of the population. Fortunately, a long-term strategy for mitigating energy poverty was finally published on Jan 2024. This Long-Term Strategy to Combat Energy Poverty 2030-2050 (ELPPE) adopts the official definition of energy poverty provided in the European Directive (EU) 2023/1791:

the lack of access by a household to essential energy services, where such services provide basic and dignified standards of living and health, including adequate heating, hot water, cooling and lighting and the energy needed for household appliances, taking into account the national context, social policy and other relevant national policies, caused by a combination of factors, including at least lack of affordability, insufficient disposable income, high energy expenditure and poor energy efficiency of dwellings”.

This National Strategy for Energy Poverty together with the National Energy and Climate Plan and the long-term Renovation Plans, are important drivers to increase building renovation rates, thus creating a favourable framework for the diffusion of the REVERTER renovation roadmaps.

Energy Consumption in households, in Portugal

In Portugal, according to the most recent results available (INE, consumption survey 2020), energy consumption in the domestic sector confirms the trends identified from other sources of information, namely the increase in the relative weight of electricity and natural gas in domestic energy consumption and the existence of efficiency gains, partly associated with the type of equipment used.

Survey at Coimbra

Electricity consumption plays a very important role in the residential sector, since most of the equipment in homes requires this type of energy, and there is a clear dependence on this energy source in today’s society. Electricity consumption is directly associated with the increase in thermal comfort and the growth in the number of electrical appliances available in homes, but also with the availability of more efficient equipment in terms of consumption. Considering the type of end use of electricity, consumption in the kitchen and electrical equipment was the highest, accounting for 42.7% and 46.0% respectively of total electricity consumption in 2020.

Based on the above information and considering field auditing studies, the typical household electricity consumption, broken down by the main use’s in the dwellings, can be estimated with good degree of confidence, as presented below.

Survey results in Portugal

In Portugal the online social survey was disseminated through several ways to be more successful, including some interviews. The survey was open from May 2023, as expected, to end August 2023. In total, 462 people followed the survey link they received from either a personal email or were informed via websites and social networks, and 330 people provided valid answers.

The survey attracted a larger number of males, representing 45.5% against 32.4% females. Regarding the education level, 52% of the households answering the questionnaire have an university degree, mainly with a technological background, which represent about 36 percent of the total households. In total, 146 respondents have a University degree in a technical area, being 92 males and 54 women. We can assume that these numbers provide some evidence about the impact of background education towards engaging in energy related issues, emphasizing the power of education in relation to the regarding the empowerment and engagement of citizens

In relation to the number of members per household, most households include two persons (32.1%), 2.4% are formed by three persons, 15.7% with four persons, 11.7% single family, 5% with five persons and only 1.3% with six persons. In the total sample, 6% of respondents did not provide this information.

Regarding the employment status of the members of the household, the rate of employment is quite high. About half (46.5%) of the households have two members working full time on a regular basis, 29% and 2.7% have one and three members, respectively, also working full time. Only 8.4% of the households have one member who is unemployed.

The share of the population for which the ratio of Expenses/Income is above 1 is significant; Over 30% of respondents spent more than 85% of their income, and for 17% of the households, the available income is not even enough to cover monthly expenses. Assuming there is naturally some embarrassment in admitting this fact, we can deduct this percentage is most probably higher and the situation should be even more dramatic.

The percentage of people who find it difficult to face the expenses with current income is significant, particularly for those in the middle- and lower-income classes:

75% of the houses were built between 1960-2010, built on concrete structures and low insulation, before the first thermal building code was introduced in Portugal. The most common type are apartments.

83 respondents (about 26%) own their house without financial obligations, among which, only 10 respondents indicated their decision must be validated by a condominium. Another 26% own their house but with a financial obligation (mortgage or loan). 15% of the respondents live in a rented house that is owned by the Municipality (social housing, with low rents).

Coimbra_Total energy bill

Fig. above shows that houses built between 1960 and 2010, before the first thermal building code adopted in Portugal, use a larger amount of energy; older houses, built with thick walls and high inertia, also seem to have a better performance. Of course, this should be taken with caution because of the limited sample, but this clearly shows the direct relationship between the energy bill and the envelope of the building.

When comparing programmes and supports by tenure and level of education, there is no surprise that those with a technological degree are keener on energy issues and therefore are applying more for EE support measures, and those with low levels of education if have low incomes, automatically receive subsidies from the state, like the social energy tariff, and are not so engaged with applying for support because of illiteracy but also because these are usually complicated processes.

Comparing programmes and supports by tenure and level of education

Indicator 10% rule

88% of respondents’ winter energy bills represent less than 10% of their income, and 12% of surveyed households spend more than 10% of their net income on energy services. HOWEVER, If we look only at the lower income households (net income <800€ per month), 29% of surveyed households spend more than 10% of their net income on energy services! Among these, more than 95% indicate they have struggled to pay the bills.

Although energy expenses represent a considerable share of household income, when we look at the households with debts to public utilities, our survey indicates that 8.4% of households have failed to pay the energy bills in the last 12 months. The official statistics indicate that 4.5% of the population in Portugal has debts to public utilities, where energy is included, compared with the EU average of 6.2%. It seems the trend is increasing in the last year in Portugal.

In relation to restrict other essential needs, only 10% of households, admitted the need to reduce expenses! The most voted options were reducing transports (37.6%), reducing medical treatments (medicines and consultations) (31.3%), reducing the number of heating hours (28.8%), and thermostat regulation to reduce heating (32.3%).