Perspective on Energy Poverty in the policy debate of Cyprus
Cyprus is one of the few countries in the EU to have an official national definition of energy poverty (MCIT, 2013). However, the definition vaguely refers to energy poverty as the condition where “consumers may be in a difficult position” for attaining necessary levels of energy services due to personal circumstances and low incomes (as evidenced by their tax declarations). Additionally, the definition refers only to electric energy consumption needs, therefore ignoring use of natural gas and oil. Furthermore, there have been no official reports or databases (to our knowledge or at least publicly available) which specifically focus on the topic of energy poverty in Cyprus. The only currently available information on levels of energy poverty can be found in the European Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) survey which is based on consensual proxy indicators of energy poverty (Eurostat, 2020b). Moreover, the Household Budget Survey (HBS), which is conducted every five years in Cyprus, offers information concerning income and costs related to energy and housing (Eurostat, 2020a). As for national estimates of the energy poor populations of the country, there have been numerical assessments in various reports over the past decade, however there have been contradictory results among them (Theodolulos Mesimeris et al., 2020; Theodoulos Mesimeris et al., 2019; Ministry of Energy Commerce Industry and Tourism, 2017).
Although a definition for energy poverty exists in national legislation, currently there is no policy debate or national action plan specifically regarding energy poverty. The definition itself lacks metric clarifications required to help determine what it means to be “in a difficult position”. Initially, the definition mentioned that vulnerable consumers are those affected by energy poverty, individuals relying on mechanical support for their survival, individuals over 70 years old, individuals with serious health issues or mental and physical disabilities, and individuals residing in remote areas. Revisions of the law have stated that vulnerable consumers are determined based on the types of financial aid they receive through national welfare services. In 2015, the Ministry of Energy, Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MECIT) issued a ministerial order (Κ.Δ.Π 289/2015), in which energy poverty is mentioned and vulnerable consumers are those receiving financial stipends related to (MECIT, 2015):
- Minimum guaranteed income (Welfare Providence Management Services)
- Public aid (Social Welfare Services)
- Allowance for heavy bodily disability (Department for Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities)
- Allowance for retired individuals with very low incomes (Welfare Providence Management Services)
- Allowance for paraplegic individuals (Department for Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities)
- Allowance for quadriplegic individuals (Department for Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities)
- Allowance for blind individuals (Department for Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities)
- Large families (5-person or higher) receiving child support (Welfare Providence Management Services)
In addition, the ministerial order also states a set of measures aiming to tackle energy poverty and support vulnerable consumers. These are:
- A special electricity tariff
- Additional benefits to promote schemes for net metering
- Additional benefits to promote schemes for residential energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy sources (RES)
- Disconnection protection - only available to vulnerable consumers with serious medical conditions, subject to examination by a relevant medical board
The notions of vulnerable consumers and energy poverty are intertwined in Cyprus, since beneficiaries of energy poverty measures (e.g. the special electricity tariff) are detected through databases of vulnerable consumers receiving assistance from the national welfare services (own communication with Ministry officials). Moreover, there is no criterion related to the actual energy consumption of households (e.g. contract limitations such as in Spain) or the energy performance of dwellings.
In spite of the relatively misguided methodology and measures currently in place, and the lack of published information on the topic of energy poverty, the efforts of the government (even though largely uncoordinated) have resulted in a basic level of understanding for this issue in Cyprus. Furthermore, a framework of distribution of financial aid is already in place. This can be utilised to build a more accurate definition and detection methodology of energy poverty. Should the government be equipped with more targeted definitions and methodology to identify individuals and households in energy poverty, minor re-adjustments of the existing framework can result in major leaps in the field of energy poverty in Cyprus. This will be especially significant, due to the recent European Directive (EU) 2018/844 which stipulates that all Member States must develop national actions to mitigate energy poverty, integrated within national renovation strategies (The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, 2018), as well as the new EU Green Deal which promises a “renovation wave” especially targeting the poorest households (European Commission, 2019). Nevertheless, Cyprus stands to improve current approaches, by conducting research and modifying policies according to the findings rather than blindly following generic recommendations.
Research perspective on energy poverty in Cyprus
Some researchers have focused on the urban heat island effects observed in the capital of Cyprus (Theophilou & Serghides, 2015), whereas others have focused on retrofitting existing multi-family buildings that meet nearly zero energy specifications (Serghides, Dimitriou, Katafygiotou, & Michaelidou, 2015; Serghides, Dimitriou, Michaelidou, Christofi, & Katafygiotou, 2017; Serghides, Michaelidou, Christofi, Dimitriou, & Katafygiotou, 2017). However, these investigations were not focused on energy vulnerable consumers. A limited number of researchers have focused on indoor and outdoor thermal comfort (Chatzinikola, Serghides, & Santamouris, 2015; Pignatta et al., 2017) and energy efficiency of buildings housing low-income populations (Fokaides, Polycarpou, & Kalogirou, 2017). The EU-funded project ELIH-MED (Energy Efficiency in Low Income Housing in the Mediterranean) resulted in energy upgrades of 25 low-income dwellings (ELIH-MED, 2014), whereas the IDEA (Innovative Direction in Energy Advising) project aims at two goals: (1) raising awareness of European citizens on the rising issue of energy poverty, and (2) developing a high quality educational approach which will be able to address both technical and social sides of the problem (IDEA, 2018). On the topic of energy poverty specifically, a few introductory studies have been conducted presenting the current status quo in the country and comparing some policy aspects with other EU countries (I. Kyprianou et al., 2019; Ioanna Kyprianou & Serghides, 2019).
Chatzinikola, C., Serghides, D., & Santamouris, M. (2015). Effect of the orientation on the winter indoor temperatures and on the energy consumption of low-income dwellings in the Mediterranean region. International Conference with Exhibition S.ARCH - Environment and Architecture, 1–9. Montenegro.
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European Commission. (2019). Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - The European Green Deal. In Brussels, 11.12.2019 COM(2019) 640 final COMMUNICATION. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvd1c6zh.7
Eurostat. (2020a). Household Budget Survey. Retrieved July 6, 2020, from https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/microdata/household-budget-survey
Eurostat. (2020b). Statistics on Income and Living Conditions. Retrieved July 6, 2020, from https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/microdata/statistics-on-income-and-living-conditions
Fokaides, P. A., Polycarpou, K., & Kalogirou, S. (2017). The impact of the implementation of the European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive on the European building stock: The case of the Cyprus Land Development Corporation. Energy Policy, 111(August), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2017.09.009
IDEA. (2018). Innovative Direction in Energy Advising. Retrieved July 20, 2018, from http://www.project-idea.eu/index.php/about/
Kyprianou, I., Serghides, D., Varo, A., Gouveia, J. P., Kopeva, D., & Murauskaite, L. (2019). Energy poverty policies and measures in 5 EU countries: A comparative study. Energy and Buildings, 196, 46–60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2019.05.003
Kyprianou, Ioanna, & Serghides, D. (2019). Dealing with energy poverty in Cyprus–an overview. International Journal of Sustainable Energy, 0(0), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/14786451.2019.1699560
MCIT. (2013). Law for the Regulation of Electricity Market of 2003 to 2012 (Vol. 211). Retrieved from http://www.cylaw.org/KDP/data/2013_1_218.pdf
MECIT. (2015). Ministerial Order for Vulnerable Electricity Consumers 289/2015. Retrieved from https://www.cera.org.cy/Templates/00001/data/nomothesia/ethniki/hlektrismos/Diatagmata/kdp2015_289.pdf
Mesimeris, Theodolulos, Kythreotou, N., Menelaou, M., Rousos, C., Karapitta-Zachariadou, C., Partasides, G., Kleanthous, A. (2020). Cyprus’ Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/ener/files/documents/cy_final_necp_main_en.pdf
Mesimeris, Theodoulos, Kythreotou, N., Partasides, G., Piripitsi, K., Karapitta-Zachariadou, C., Hadjinikolaou, N., … Ellinopoulos, C. (2019). Cyprus’ Draft Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan for the period 2021-2030. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/ener/files/documents/cyprus_draftnecp.pdf
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Pignatta, G., Chatzinikola, C., Artopoulos, G., Papanicolas, C. N., Serghides, D., & Santamouris, M. (2017). Analysis of the indoor thermal quality in low income Cypriot households during winter. Energy and Buildings, 152, 766–775. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2016.11.006
Serghides, D., Dimitriou, S., Katafygiotou, M. C., & Michaelidou, M. (2015). Energy efficient refurbishment towards nearly zero energy houses, for the mediterranean region. Energy Procedia, 83, 533–543. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.egypro.2015.12.173
Serghides, D., Dimitriou, S., Michaelidou, M., Christofi, M., & Katafygiotou, M. (2017). Achieving Nearly Zero Energy Multi-family Houses in Cyprus through Energy Refurbishments. Energy and Environmental Engineering, 5(1), 19–28. https://doi.org/10.13189/eee.2017.050103
Serghides, D., Michaelidou, M., Christofi, M., Dimitriou, S., & Katafygiotou, M. (2017). Energy Refurbishment Towards Nearly Zero Energy Multi-Family Houses, for Cyprus. Procedia Environmental Sciences, 38, 11–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.proenv.2017.03.068
The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. (2018). Directive (EU) 2018/844 of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2010/31/EU on the energy performance of buildings and Directive 2012/27/EU on energy efficiency. Official Journal of the European Union, 2018 (October 2012), 75–91.
Theophilou, M., & Serghides, D. (2015). Estimating the characteristics of the Urban Heat Island Effect in Nicosia, Cyprus, using multiyear urban and rural climatic data and analysis. Energy & Buildings, 108, 137–144. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2015.08.034