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The fight against energy poverty. An observation of the EGAL concept

Summary : The EGAL project, conducted in 2009 by the Design Societ of Saint-Etienne, is a research project on design which connects theory and conception but also design and sociology. By focusing on how the residents use energy, rather than on the technical aspect of their relationship to it, this research enabled a new concept to come to light: The Energy Guarantee for Tenants.

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  • Start date : 2009
  • Implementation site : Saint Etienne
  • Budget : N/A
  • Source and details on funding : Public/private funding (PUCA, ADEME/EDF, Pact Loire, CIRIDD)




Editorial committee

  • Date of proofreading :  20/05/2015
Opinion of the Committee : Innovative ! Recent programme – still needs to prove its worth
Solution(s) : Fuel poverty
Country :  France, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
Stature of the programme :  National
Participant :  Public institution, Association, ONG
  • Beneficiaries :  Universal
  • Domain :  Housing, Energy

Reports collected as part of the RESOLIS programme « Energy Poverty »

Copyright: Licence Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ )
To reference a document published by RESOLIS : Caraës Marie-Claude , « The fight against energy poverty. An observation of the EGAL concept », **Journal RESOLIS** (2015)

Background to the programme

By answering the PREBAT call for research projects on 'Energy Poverty Reduction', launched by PUCA and ADEME, the Design Society has proposed a reflection on the relationship between individuals and energy, which was under explored until then. This interpretation enables a technical vision of energy to emerge which addresses energy usage from a social and cultural angle. Why study the usage when it seems obvious that a technical answer can resolve the situation? It is necessary to improve understanding of the uses of energy which are at risk of under-performance. Thus it is individuals, even those who are poor, who are the actors whose decisions affect energy consumption. Without action with them, rather than done to them, there is a good chance that the incentive policies and technical approaches will fail upon entering the home.

Objectives of the programme

"Households in energy poverty are homes where energy costs represent more than 10% of the household income", as defined by the RAPPEL association which states that energy poverty is the product of several factors with serious health and social consequences: financial poverty which can be accompanied and reinforced by housing that's in poor condition. Policies concerning the reduction of energy consumption have rarely been combined with an interrogation of the relationship of the individual to the technical arrangements that are put in place. Yet how can energy insecurity be solved by abandoning the causes and the individual and household uses in such a situation? Wanting to reduce energy poverty requires the understanding of energy uses: to understand all of the attitudes and knowledge about energy consumption and the potential reduction of this consumption.

Implemented actions

In social housing, solutions to energy poverty must be considered as part of the relationship between the landlord and tenant. Indeed, the management of energy use depends as much on the property proposed as the way in which it is used. The meaning of the EGAL project (Energy Guarantee for the tenant) is to propose levers to fight against energy poverty based on the unique relationship between a landlord and his tenant. With this in mind, the landlord works on the rental of the property as much as on the minimal comfort this property has to offer (assuming that the right to well being is inherent in the right to housing). The notion of "domestic energy" can then be assessed according to two values: energy known as "minimal", guaranteed by the landlord who implements the measures necessary to ensure it is achieved regardless of the quality of housing; and energy known as 'comfort', managed by the tenant according to their resources.

Quantitative and qualitative results from the implemented actions

EGAL has 5 themes which include 37 projects:
1. space: a habitat reconfigured depending on the energy use of the inhabitants;
2 economy: simple and inexpensive solutions to increase small savings on a daily basis;
3 management: tools to bring consumption closer to its uses;
4 adaptation: a network that follows the life of the inhabitants;
5 collaboration: a landlord that co-produces energy with informed and responsive tenants.

The links between projects form coherent scenarios that produce connections to domestic energy in line with the practice of people in fuel poverty and thus by extension, to all of us. The different projects are part of a general system covering all the observed energy needs and uses. However, this system is not inward looking and each project can be implemented independently of the others.

Original characteristics

Research conducted at the Design Society is built on an alliance of multiple fields − social, political, aesthetic or economic − with which theory and design work together. Thus no research produced by the Design Society, is without the production of theoretical knowledge and also without the production of form. This two fold structure is based on an innovative method that places the user at the heart of the process of observation and design. It enables the design research to be envisaged as a producer of ideas and innovative concepts which find their reality in shapes, objects, systems. The innovation of the EGAL project, therefore, resides in the concept to consider a new partition of energy which in fact requires domestic energy constructs to be revisited. EGAL is opens to innovations that are rethinking both the use and the function of objects and make use of unexploited techniques in the domestic field.

Partnership(s) developed in the context of the programme

Researching the fight against energy poverty. From the observation to the concept of EGAL, once the financial partnerships were organized, it was carried out independently. Teams of social scientists, designers and engineers who participated in the research have been able to resort to taking advice from reference institutions, but there were no new partnerships established during the research period.


Difficulties and/or obstacles encountered during the programme’s implementation :

The observation and the concept of EGAL has enabled the imagining of "concrete" projects aimed at combating energy poverty but has mostly been at the origin of a political concept in which these projects take place. By producing both a theoretical and formal response, this research provoked reactions of indignation and enthusiasm. Research design in France is still at a very early stage (at the moment it mainly takes place in universities), and does not receive all the legitimacy it deserves from some players in the world of research. In fact, amongst the reactions of indignation or otherwise of reservation, it was especially criticised for the fact that its designers who are bringing this new perspective to the subject. Therefore some remarks that have been made were less about the answers provided than about the fact that the design would not be legitimate within the research community. There were therefore heated discussions and sometimes evidence of some violence to invalidate the fact that 'design', 'research' and 'precariousness' could not be associated with each other. (Understand that design, in this context, was perceived as a discipline focused on the field of luxury which could not be involved in the social field. Yet it is the concern of the research developed by the research centre of the Design Society: to produce a social design and become a reference point in the field.) On the other hand, others have seen in the answers provided and the methodology initiated, real innovation in the way research is produced.

Suggestions for future improvement :

Observation and the EGAL concept proposes the installation of a new relationship in the energy-lessor-lessee triangle. Accordingly, the Resolis association and EDF have proposed to the team in the research department of the Design Society to go to the meeting of social landlords to put a certain operational aspects of the EGAL concept to the test. These meetings will certainly help to show the limits and obstacles in the implementation of such a concept. But beyond the identification of these obstacles, these talks will also be an important time to imagine solutions so that the EGAL concept, (Energy Guarantee for Tenants) can actually become operational.

Summary of factors responsible for the programme’s success :

It is difficult for us to say what the successful factors are if we ask this question with the results produced in mind. The EGAL concept was certainly innovative and thus supported the successful elements of the program, but it was only at the time of the PREBAT call in 2008, when few researchers were actually invested in the field of energy use. In deciding to position themselves at the margin of the proposed pathways in the call for research, the research department of the Design Society has offered an angle of approach to the subject which is still contentious. Indeed, if we look at the research approaches proposed in the call for projects, two routes were proposed:
-a 'technician' route, where the objective was to provide a technical response to the problem of energy poverty;
-a 'behaviourist' route, where the proclaimed objective was "to teach the people in fuel poverty" to manipulate, control and better conserve energy.

In deciding to start our research without the contribution of technical and educational solutions, but rather on the study of the uses to analyse how people understand the issue of energy, we have been able to observe that although they are in situations of energy poverty, all of those questioned had developed tips, practices and reasons which until then were unknown to researchers. Indeed, based on this real life study, the answers which have then been found could only succeed in establishing themselves in this reality and therefore be more useful to users.

To know more

-Public report of research: http://www.egal.citedudesign.com/pdf/PUBLICATION_PUCA_2012-light_2013.pdf
-Video presentation of the concept: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0L2AVLoA3k

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