The price of energy, which has risen sharply over the past year, is in the news every day. In 2020, over 450 thousand households in the Netherlands were living in energy poverty. TNO now estimates that this number has increased by 90 thousand over the past two years. Energy poverty tends to hit low-income households with high energy costs, living in poorly insulated homes. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy has asked CBS and TNO to provide an up-to-date assessment of energy poverty at national and local level. TNO released a report on this, based on figures from CBS.
Manon van Middelkoop is a researcher at CBS. As a member of the Energy team, she collects figures on household energy use and the affordability of energy. ‘We produce annual statistics on household energy use. Given the current developments, we’d like to publish figures on a monthly or quarterly basis, but that’s not something we can accomplish overnight. It’s a process. We’re currently in talks with Netbeheer Nederland– the trade association for energy network operators – to get figures on monthly household energy use, in addition to the annual figures.’ In 2022, the Ministry of Economic Affairs asked CBS to develop an annual Energy Poverty Monitor, based on a study previously conducted by TNO. ‘We’ve been working closely with TNO for years. They conduct both qualitative and quantitative research on energy poverty, so they’re well versed in all the relevant theory and policy, they understand how this problem affects people in practice, and they know what’s happening internationally’, Van Middelkoop explains.
Monitoring energy poverty
Lydia Geijtenbeek works at the CBS Centre for Policy-related Statistics. Previously, she helped answer questions from external parties on energy poverty and the energy-income ratio (the proportion of income spent on energy costs), also in collaboration with TNO. ‘It’s a pleasant working relationship with a good division of roles: TNO has created indicators for energy poverty, which have been further developed by CBS. This has made the indicators easier to track over time, and we also made sure that they were aligned with CBS data, which turned out to be quite the challenge. We then produced a first version of the Energy Poverty in the Netherlands Monitor.’ According to Geijtenbeek, energy poverty is also a growing problem in other European countries. ‘The European Commission wants countries to take action against this. To develop targeted policies on a country-by-country basis, energy poverty needs to be monitored in every European country.’
Peter Mulder works at TNO as a senior researcher, specialising in topics related to the energy transition. He was responsible for the report released in the autumn of 2021, which for the first time offered detailed mapping of energy poverty in The Netherlands, based on CBS data. ‘Surprisingly, that study found that about 70% of households struggling with energy poverty were living in social housing provided by a housing corporation. Figures show that these are often poorly insulated homes, which residents can’t renovate themselves. Homeowners have access to subsidies to make their homes more sustainable, but tenants don’t. Another striking outcome of that study was that, in relative terms, most people facing energy poverty live in the northeast of The Netherlands. This can be explained by the fact that there are relatively more low-income households living in large, poorly insulated homes in this region.’ The TNO report from 2021 received a lot of media attention and also produced concrete results, according to Mulder. ‘First of all, energy poverty is now on the agenda at the national and municipal levels. But the figures have also informed the design of financial relief measures for rising household energy bills, and they’re the reason the Ministry of Economic Affairs requested CBS to publish an annual Energy Poverty Monitor.’
Today’s new TNO report, for which researchers made estimates based on 2020 CBS figures on households, income, energy consumption and housing quality, also contains a number of striking conclusions. The high current price of energy and last year’s relief measures were included in the calculations. ‘We see a rise in energy poverty’, says Mulder. ‘But the increase has been mitigated to a large extent by the government’s financial relief measures. Without those measures, we estimate that the number of households living in energy poverty would have doubled to almost one million compared to 2020. We also see that energy poverty has worsened among low-income households living in poorly insulated homes. In the report that was published a year and a half ago, we saw that single-person households were hit the hardest. In the meantime, energy poverty has increased most strongly among families. These households are struggling to make ends meet, presumably because prices have gone up almost across the board.’
Scenarios and figures
Mulder is very positive about the collaboration with CBS. ‘It’s a great partnership, and a very constructive one. There’s a good division of roles, with TNO creating the scenarios and CBS providing the figures and advice. We’re good at innovation and policy advice, while CBS is excellent at ensuring the quality and consistency of indicators over a longer period of time, in line with other relevant CBS data. So we complement each other nicely.’ Looking ahead, Mulder hopes for a continued collaboration. ‘TNO is coordinating a National Energy Poverty Research Programme. This also involves the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, as well as the provincial executives of Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland, the Association of Netherlands Municipalities and CBS. We want to provide policymakers with the sound, up-to-date knowledge that is needed to combat energy poverty, both in the form of ad hoc financial relief and through more structural measures, such as policies that will help make homes more sustainable. CBS figures play a crucial role in this.’