This article is part of New Europe’s: Our World in 2017

Belgium-Brussels – Energy poverty is no new dimension to the multiple and concurrent crises we have been experiencing in the EU over the past eight years.

Between 50 and 125 million people in the EU are currently suffering from energy poverty and are unable to afford proper indoor thermal comfort. The households which are mostly affected are those already vulnerable to income poverty.

The inability of numerous households to afford keeping warm using clean energy during cold winters is degrading the life quality of millions of families, causing them serious health problems, while at the same time the burning of inappropriate materials deeply degrades the quality of the air we all breathe.

According to a prevalent definition a household is considered to be energy poor, if it spends more than 10% of its income on energy bills.

This definition is not inclusive enough; families that find it impossible to cope with high energy cost, simply decide to turn the heating off. They just don’t spend a single euro for heating in the winter or cool in the summer.

But let’s assume the above 10% definition is good enough. The “champions” are already countries in southeastern Europe. Bulgaria is on the top of the list, Cyprus and Greece are following. Even by these standards, one out of three Greek households in 2016 were faced with energy poverty.

Turning to 2017 discourse on energy efficiency and the tackling of energy poverty has finally become one of the key debates in Brussels and the EU institutions.

Only about a month ago, on the 30th of November 2016, the European Commission presented the winter energy package, a bundle of legislative initiatives for clean energy, proposing binding targets for member states by 2030.

Indeed a major component of this initiative is EU countries’ obligation to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings. The proposed EU-wide target is 30%.

This new forward looking legislative package constitutes a major opportunity for all member states.

An opportunity to highlight the social need of addressing energy poverty in specific regions and do so by utilising a combination of EU financial tools.

Member states can use a combination of Multi-annual Financial Framework funds, mainly the Regional development Fund (ERDF),complementary resources from the European Fund for Strategic Investments, and private investments, especially now that the energy efficiency market for residential and public buildings is opening up with stable and viable prospects.

A good case study with tangible results is the example of France: Way before the European Commission published its latest legislative package, France utilised 400 million euros from the European Fund for Strategic Investments to upgrade the energy efficiency of 6000 buildings.

The result was lower energy bills for consumers, topped by the creation of an additional 3000 jobs.

It’s high time we now manage the same in my home country, Greece.

Combining funds from the European Fund for Strategic Investments and the Multiannual Financial Framework, through which an energy savings plan is already being financed, we can upgrade houses and apartments and reduce the energy bills for households, whilst creating thousands of new jobs for small entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises.

To that end I have proposed a pilot project that is included in the 2017 EU budget, which aims to reduce energy consumption and tackle energy poverty as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This project has been adopted by the European Parliament and the Council and will be financed with 1million euro.The project aims to provide a blueprint for making building renovations easier as well as increasing the energy share of renewables in the Ionian-Adriatic MacroRegion, which includes Greece.

By a rough estimate the goal to increase energy efficiency by 30% will translate to more than 40 million euros in profits for insulation material enterprises and more than 20 millions for those installing window and door frames.

Add to these the potential profits that the energy autonomy of buildings through the installation of photovoltaics could bring, and do the math.

Tackling energy poverty is our modern-day challenge. The fresh EU legislation, the winter energy package, paves the way. It’s now a task for EU governments and local and regional authorities to take the call and respond efficiently to a challenge that could vastly improve the everyday life of millions of citizens.

2017 can be the turning point.