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Low-carbon Heat and Rural Fuel Poverty: Lessons from across Europe

Community Energy Plus
Date: 2017


The UK is performing poorly in terms of carbon emissions reduction and the delivery of renewable heat infrastructures in comparison with other EU Member States. In general, most extant guidance and policy on delivering low-carbon  infrastructures have focused on urban settings. This is partly because it is envisaged that the density of properties in such settings will lead to higher aggregate carbon savings than in other locations.

Rural environments can often present different challenges, such as a greater proportion of older, hard-to-treat housing, many off-grid properties, greater physical distances between homes and significant levels of general poverty and deprivation. All of these contribute to fuel poverty. If current guidance is not entirely applicable to rural areas, the potential to maximise low-carbon infrastructure in the UK may not be realised. Whilst other Member States are making such technologies accessible to rural communities and seeing reductions in fuel poverty, there is little evidence that such knowledge is informing the UK’s approach.

Key research Question

Can the UK learn lessons from other EU member states on how to use low-carbon heat in rural locations as a way of addressing fuel poverty?

Summary of activity

The report includes country profiles for all 28 EU Member States and considers the national context of fuel poverty, energy policy and the penetration of low-carbon/renewable technologies. This is followed by case studies from outside and inside the UK, each of which considers factors such as the technologies involved, drivers, funding sources, public acceptance and lessons learned. Key messages are summarised, and the main drivers of, and barriers to, improvements in low-carbon infrastructure in the UK are discussed. Subsequently, the gaps and opportunities are discussed and supported by positive examples from other EU countries.


There is no simple cause-and-effect relationship between greater investment in low-carbon heat infrastructure and reduced fuel poverty: some Member States have well-developed renewables sectors but persistently high levels of poverty. This is attributable to wider factors such as unstable or fragile economies, low incomes and inadequate welfare.

However, in many countries a strong correlation can be observed. These states tend to have long-term, strategic programmes that combine significant capital investment, consistent policy measures and effective (often decentralised) governance.

In the UK, progress in developing low-carbon infrastructures has been hampered by several factors. These include the removal or reduction of government funding, the lack of long-term policy objectives (and resources to sustain them), and top-down approaches to delivering low-carbon infrastructures. These have contributed to a narrow focus on the economic and environmental benefits to the detriment of other factors.

Information campaigns to increase awareness of low-carbon options are far more frequently utilised in some Member States than in others (including the UK). This can result in ambivalent or even hostile attitudes towards adopting such technologies. Site visits and word of mouth were key to success.

Case studies from across the EU indicate a number of approaches that can boost access to low-carbon heat in rural communities. These include community ownership projects, using policies and incentives to link locally produced biomass to consumers, and the existence of replicable models such as the ‘bioenergy villages’ approach used in Germany and Austria.

Policy and practice themes

The Best Practice Guide, Policy Brief, project poster and webinar presentation, along with the final report, are available online.

Other themes



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