Myth : Rural areas are all powered by alternative energy anyway

A large number of rural families and business are 'off-grid' and therefore have to make other choices. But in fact, the stark choice is most often between the polluting (coal, wood or heating oil) or renewable energy technologies which do not have the government support to make truly viable


  • New State Aid Guidelines for Energy – the changing nature of renewable support

    On the 9 April the European Commission principally adopted new rules on public support for environmental protection and energy, essentially changing current State Aid Guidelines that are expiring at the end of 2014. Within the new adoptions, it has been made clear that financial support for renewable energy production is going to be phased out from 2020 onwards, encouraging renewable energy to become more grid-competitive compared to other energy sources. Upon release of the new guidelines, in his speech Competition Commissioner Joaquin Alumnia pointed out that;

    • “Support mechanisms have led to significant cost increases for electricity users – both consumers and businesses. They have sheltered renewables producers from risk, allowing the production of electricity irrespective of actual demand.”
    • “This has affected wholesale electricity prices and weakened price signals for investment in electricity generation from other sources.”
    • “So today, we need to look again at what are the most appropriate instruments to achieve our goals.
    • Our objective now is to ensure renewables support is sustainable by gradually integrating renewables into the market.”

    FREE believes that renewables are highly competitive in remote and rural areas and it is becoming increasingly common to be the viable source of electricity generation in these localities. Whether it is small-scale wind power, solar panels, biomass or local hydro-electric generation, renewable energy holds a significant advantage when supporting off-grid regions, both in terms of competitiveness and sustainability.

  • MEP calls on energy companies to take action on energy savings

    PhilMynott_1940 - Energy Solution Cambridge - Calor Gas and Vicky Ford MEPThe national investigation into how big energy companies are behaving needs to look deeper than energy prices. It should also review what companies are doing to help householders save energy. This was one of the main conclusions from a round table on rural energy issues hosted by East Anglian MEP Vicky Ford at the Cambridge SmartLIFE Centre on Friday.

    The meeting was attended by representatives from the Energy Savings Trust, energy system installers, local experts who have been setting up energy savings projects in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk and Cllr Mathew Shuter, Cabinet member for Skills, Enterprise, Energy and Waste at Cambridgeshire County Council. It was sponsored by Calor Gas as part of a pan European campaign to look at energy issues affecting rural communities.

    The attendees heard how programs run by some of the larger energy companies, which are intended to help households install energy savings measures, can in reality be too bureaucratic or fail to offer the best advice.   They also learnt how difficult it is for consumers to compare the benefits of different types of energy efficiency measures available to them. This is especially important for rural households who often do not have access to mains gas, are more reliant on domestic heating oil and  therefore have arguably the most to benefit from alternative energy systems.

    Vicky Ford MEP was one of the lead negotiators on recent EU rules on energy efficiency where energy companies are now required to deliver a 1.5% energy saving every year amongst their customers.PhilMynott_1958 - Energy Solution Cambridge - Calor Gas and Vicky Ford MEP

    Mrs Ford said "It is extremely important that householders are given proper information on how best to save energy and that energy companies help to pay for the investment.The UK pushed for this obligation scheme to be written into EU law and it is disappointing that some of our larger energy suppliers appear to be trying to avoid their energy savings obligations.  I will be writing to ministers to ask them to include this in the independent investigation of how energy companies behave in Britain. These companies need to be helping all energy consumers, not just those in urban areas where the savings are easier to come-by.”

    The round table identified the need to help local communities by offering them expert advice especially on how to improve the energy efficiency on public buildings such as village halls and sports pavilions. Cllr Shuter also pointed to the need to make sure skilled experts are available for ongoing maintenance.

    He said "Cambridgeshire County Council is helping unlock energy savings advice for public buildings through our Mobilising Local Energy Investment project. Energy companies should be made to deliver on their commitments to help householders too."

    PhilMynott_1982 - Energy Solution Cambridge - Calor Gas and Vicky Ford MEP PhilMynott_1988 - Energy Solution Cambridge - Calor Gas and Vicky Ford MEP

    PhilMynott_1986 - Energy Solution Cambridge - Calor Gas and Vicky Ford MEP PhilMynott_1936 - Energy Solution Cambridge - Calor Gas and Vicky Ford MEP

    PhilMynott_1971 - Energy Solution Cambridge - Calor Gas and Vicky Ford MEP PhilMynott_1972 - Energy Solution Cambridge - Calor Gas and Vicky Ford MEP

    PhilMynott_1977 - Energy Solution Cambridge - Calor Gas and Vicky Ford MEP PhilMynott_1933 - Energy Solution Cambridge - Calor Gas and Vicky Ford MEP

  • MEP Vidal-Quadras questions the European Commission on the development of a rural energy strategy

    Spanish MEP Alejo Vidal-Quadras submitted a written question to the European Commission concerning possible development of a rural energy strategy within the 2030 Framework for Climate and Energy.

    The question is a direct follow up of the European Parliament’s report on the 2030 Framework for Climate and Energy adopted earlier this year:

    While Parliament has already recognised the importance of tackling the energy challenges faced in rural areas, is the Commission considering developing a comprehensive rural 2030 energy strategy which would address these challenges? What steps is the Commission’s DG Energy planning to take to ensure cleaner and efficient use of energy sources in rural areas?’

    FREE believes that it is essential to follow up on the European Parliament call to develop a rural energy strategy. This holds an opportunity to significantly improve the energy situation of remote and rural areas. FREE would also like to encourage the European Commission to form a comprehensive and detailed reply, whilst understanding that remote and rural areas now have to be considered vital areas that contain both energy challenges and innovative solutions.

  • FREE response to INTERREG Europe Consultation

    On the 21 March 2014, INTERREG Europe closed an EU-wide public consultation on its new draft Cooperation Programme and Environmental Assessment report. INTERREG is an initiative that aims to stimulate cooperation between regions in the European Union.

    The programme is aimed to fund interregional cooperation projects which allow partners from the different EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland to work together on shared regional policy issues. The allocation of funding in various regions can have a considerable impact on remote and rural regions, including their respective energy solutions.

    FREE welcomes the two documents and has sent a full official response to the consultation. FREE is especially pleased to see included within the draft Cooperation Programme that renewable energy offers specific opportunities within the more ‘peripheral regions.’ However FREE believes that the context mentioned here is too broad and that remote, rural and mountainous regions should be mentioned explicitly.

    FREE also believes that the energy situation in rural areas should be more prominently mentioned among specific objectives under the “Low Carbon Economy” priority axis in the Strategic Environmental Assessment and the draft Cooperation Programme text.

    There are many reasons why remote and rural areas should be included within this axis. Rural dwellers tempt to use dirtier energy sources, there is  poor standard of energy efficiency found in rural building stock and the countryside is struggling with managing the impact of CO2, and other air pollutants such as SOx and NOx on their daily life. While local authorities have already shown great interest in improving their energy situations in remote and rural areas, this move should be further supported by projects encouraging cleaner, more energy efficient and sustainable energy solutions. FREE believes that providing a reference only to urbanised areas, as this is currently the case, might discourage potential rural projects. It is important that non-urbanised areas are treated with the same level of regional importance than cities and towns.


  • Read New FREE Manifesto for Clean, Efficient and affordable energy in rural areas of the European Union

    Manifesto for Clean, Efficient and affordable energy in rural areas of the European Union

    People and businesses in rural areas are a vital part of European society. They play an essential role in developing Europe’s economic dynamism; as rural and semi-rural areas represent around 43% of Europe’s gross value. However, for the millions of homes and businesses in remote rural locations without access to the natural gas grid, energy choices are becoming increasingly problematic and too often result in the selection of more polluting fuels and inefficient energy technologies.

    The EU should actively encourage the reduction of consumption of higher polluting fuels used for heating purposes in off-grid areas and boost energy efficiency through a target on energy efficiency and a specific Rural Energy Strategy for 2030.

    • Efficient rural energy will reduce energy bills and waste consumption.
    • Cleaner rural energy will reduce Europe’s carbon footprint, whilst creating jobs in renovation and new technology sectors at a local level.
    • Affordable rural energy will make the countryside more competitive and help tackle fuel poverty issues.


    The EU has taken initial steps to improve the energy situation of the countryside by acknowledging their needs in the Commission’s Vulnerable Consumers Working Group guidance report, and calling for a rural energy strategy in the European Parliament’s resolution on 2030 climate and energy policy. However, with the European Union debating  the 2030 climate and energy strategy, it is vital for the European Commission and Member  States to ensure that the long-term well-being of EU citizens living in rural and remote regions is taken into account.

    Policymakers must take greater care of the countryside, look into its energy challenges and realise the social, environmental and economic opportunities it offers. The EU cannot be competitive and reach ambitious climate and energy targets by 2030 without improving the energy situation of rural communities.

    • FREE encourages the EU to keep focussed on the proven benefits of energy efficiency, particularly in buildings, and promote the phasing out of aging inefficient technologies.
    • Beyond a legitimate focus on GHG emissions, the EU should also take into account broader environmental, health and societal goals. High polluting fuels and aging technology have a negative effect on good air quality and increase the risk of ground pollution in the countryside.

    FREE calls on new Members of the European Parliament and policymakers taking on new responsibilities in 2014 to include three major sets of actions in their priorities and to take forward the following recommendations:

    Provide the European countryside with the right tools to become more energy efficient

    • Put an end to considerable energy losses in the countryside by prioritising renovation of building stock and encouraging deep renovation of buildings. Energy efficiency legislation is currently not sufficient to address this significant challenge. To address this issue, energy advice programmes, advanced finance schemes and financial incentives are even more needed at a local level. To boost energy saving efforts across Europe, FREE calls on policymakers to introduce a 40% target for energy efficiency for 2030 and an annual renovation rate of 3% for all buildings by 2020, both public and private.  In addition, it is important that all such renovations capture the full cost-effective potential at project level and thus lead to deep or staged deep renovations, delivering more than 60% savings, as a result of the building work undertaken.
    • Remove barriers to decentralised energy generation technologies, which could empower rural dwellers to become energy producers. To kick-start the uptake of these appliances, introduce incentives for localised clean electricity generation, Micro-CHP and smart grids deployment.
    • Prioritise financial support for energy projects in rural areas by streamlining EU and national funds and providing political support for the development of cleaner and more energy efficient technologies in rural areas.

    Support rural areas in their transition to sustainable energy use

    • Help rural areas decrease their CO2 emissions by introducing a 40% CO2 emissions target by 2030, with specific sub-targets per sector depending on their emission reduction potential and if the burden sharing between ETS and non-ETS sector is re-balanced to deliver more savings on the non-ETS sector.
    • Focus on reducing emissions of CO2, NOx, SOx and fine particulates up to 2030, addressing at the same time the risk of global warming and threats to public health.
    • Introduce political and financial measures allowing the replacement of inefficient energy sources such as heating oil and coal with a portfolio of cleaner energy technologies.

    Address the energy challenges of the European countryside through a comprehensive strategy

    • Create anEU-wide rural energy strategy, as part of the 2030 framework for climate and energy policies, in order to address some of the particular challenges confronted by off-grid energy consumers and make a series of policy recommendations to Member States. This EU-wide strategy should be accompanied by a rigorous analysis of the environmental and social costs of inaction (population currently affected, carbon footprint due to more polluting fuels, etc.). It should also propose new ways to educate rural consumers about the health and environmental impact of their energy choices.
    • Educate rural energy consumers about the benefits of making smarter energy choices and improving their building stock. This could be achieved through the creation of accessible energy efficiency information together with more selective village energy audits.


    About Free

    Over 50% of European citizens live in rural areas. They occupy over 90% of Europe’s territory and contribute 43% of Europe’s gross value. And yet, despite their importance, rural communities are rarely considered by politicians and regulators when writing energy policy.

    People living in the more remote parts of Europe rarely have access to the natural gas grid and the electricity supply can be unreliable and hugely inefficient. As a consequence they often have to rely on relatively high carbon solid and liquid fuels which are being used with aging technologies.

    The Future of Rural Energy in Europe (FREE) initiative gives a voice to all those who believe that rural energy needs are important issues both for those who live in the countryside and for European society as a whole. We want to make sure that policy makers acknowledge that this is true and plan accordingly.

  • Member States edge towards 2020 renewable energy targets: two-speed Europe

    Under the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy, the European Union is obliged to commit to a 20% renewable energy target by 2020. EUROSTAT’s data released in March 2014, shows that in 2012 renewable energy sources in the EU reached 14.1%, having increased from 13% in 2011. In fact, Bulgaria, Estonia and Sweden have already achieved their 2020 national targets.

    Other countries such as Latvia, Finland and Austria area also in the lead and have increased their renewable energy consumption by 35.8%, 34.3% and 32.1% respectively. However, many Member States are not faring so well in the renewables race. On the bottom of the ladder are: the UK (4.2%) and Ireland (7.2%).

    FREE recognizes the progress gained by Member States in meeting their renewable energy targets, but also urges them to support development of cleaner and more energy efficient technologies in rural areas. Rural areas are disadvantaged when it comes to access to cleaner energy technologies. Those technologies are available today. They could help in transform our countryside and helping the EU in reaching tis 2020 climate and energy targets.


    The Future of Rural Energy in Europe (FREE) initiative gives a voice to all those who believe that rural energy needs are important issues both for those who live in the countryside and for European society as a whole. Back in 2010, FREE was created under the umbrella of SHV Energy, based on its experience in delivering lower-carbon energy to rural areas. Since then, the initiative has grown and meanwhile incorporates many supporting organisations. Visit the FREE website or contact the FREE Secretariat for more information (, tel: +32 2 234 68 94).

  • Millions PLN for the improvement of energy efficiency in Poland

    Polish Ministry of Environment: Over PLN 340 million in the form of subsidies and loans will be allocated by the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management to projects enhancing energy efficiency in energy-intensive enterprises. The call for proposals within the programme entitled "Support for entrepreneurs in the area of low-carbon and resource-efficient economy" will be launched on 10 March this year. The Ministry of the Environment encourages participation.

    About the programme

    It is one of the first consolidated programmes announced by the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management this year. Its purpose is to decrease the negative impact of enterprises on the environment. It will support measures aimed at e.g. reducing the use of primary resources, increasing energy efficiency, reducing air pollution, generating energy from industrial waste (including sludge) and performing energy/electric power audits in enterprises. "The programme will not only bring measurable benefits to the environment, but also offer financial benefits to entrepreneurs," says Janusz Ostapiuk, Vice-Minister of the Environment.

    The programme consists of three parts. In the first one, entrepreneurs will be able to obtain subsidies for up to 70 percent of eligible costs of energy audits. The subsidies will cover: energy audits of technological processes, electric power audits of buildings and internal industrial networks, energy audits of heating, electric power and cooling sources, as well as energy audits of external heating systems and buildings.

    In the next part of the programme – Increasing energy efficiency – investments leading to energy savings or increasing energy efficiency in enterprises will be subsidised. A company may only take part in the programme if it has carried out an energy or electric power audit. Aid may be granted to enterprises that rationalise heat, gas or electric power consumption, the modernisation of industrial processes or the implementation of energy and energy quality management schemes.

    Finally, the third part of the programme, entitled E-KUMULATOREcological Accumulator for Industry, will subsidise e.g. projects generating energy and fuel from industrial waste and sludge, decreasing the consumption of primary resources and reducing air pollution.  It is to be implemented only in 2014 (as regards the call for proposals and the conclusion of financing agreements; projects may be implemented until the end of 2017).

    How big will the subsidies be?

    The programme's budget is estimated at over PLN 340 million for new investments and PLN 5 million for energy audits. Its beneficiaries will include entrepreneurs who undertake measures to save energy with the annual total energy consumption (electric power and heat) of over 20 GWh.  The limit does not apply to E-KUMULATOR. Project proposals will be accepted from 10 to 24 March 2014 by the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management.

    More information is available at:

    Source: Polish Ministry of Environment

  • MEP Vicky Ford has become a friend of FREE – watch the interview!

    MEP Vicky Ford, who represents the East of England constituency in the UK, has recently become a friend of the FREE initiative. She spoke in an interview with FREE to convey her feelings about how the initiative would aid her specific area, and the energy challenges her constituency faces. She talked about how 20% of households in the Eastern region are not connected to mains gas, and that there are indeed very remote communities within the entire region. The East of England has a large proportion of older building stock, and many inhabitants of these areas need innovative solutions to meet their energy needs.

    Have a look at Vicky's views on the rural energy situation in her constituency, the East of England.


    The Future of Rural Energy in Europe (FREE) initiative gives a voice to all those who believe that rural energy needs are important issues both for those who live in the countryside and for European society as a whole. Back in 2010, FREE was created under the umbrella of SHV Energy, based on its experience in delivering lower-carbon energy to rural areas. Since then, the initiative has grown and meanwhile incorporates many supporting organisations. Visit the FREE or contact the FREE Secretariat for more information (, tel: +32 2 234 68 94).

  • FREE Solutions Video Contest – the Competition is now open!

    Do you live in a remote or rural area? Or a small town in the European countryside? Do you have a specific way of dealing with your energy concerns?

    FREE has launched its ‘FREE Solutions Video Contest’, and would like to invite inhabitants of remote and rural regions in Europe to submit how they face their specific energy challenges into a short two minute video.

    The subject area is broad; perhaps each year you need to make an appointment to fill up your oil tank with expensive and polluting heating oil? Or perhaps you have installed renewable energy or energy-saving technologies in your house or business? Is your home extremely well insulated and energy efficient?

    To participate in the contest, please make a 2-min (max.) home-video (e.g. using your smartphone or a handy cam) showing us the challenges you face on a daily basis or the sustainable energy improvements made in your residence or business. Submit your video and get a chance to win one of the two cool and dynamic GoPro Action Cameras, allowing you to share your rural energy adventures from your viewpoint with the rest of the world!

    To view the rules of the contest, the ‘how-to’ page, and all submission details, please click here.

  • Greens/EFA Conference – ‘Greening Regional Policy – Achievements and Perspectives’

    On 30 January FREE representatives attended ‘Greening Regional Policy – Achievements and perspectives’, a Greens / EFA conference attended by several MEPs, NGOs and various think tanks. The two main themes discussed were ‘sustainable investment in regions’ and ‘the partnership principle’, a key principle of structural funding which often becomes a key resource for regional and local development. The main points of discussion were that;

    • Regional policy is progressing well, however there are many aspects of regional and cohesion policy that can be improved. The WWF states that member states should ensure that 20% of structural funds are devoted to climate action and the green economy within regions.
    • The WWF also stated that not enough funding was being streamlined for spending on biodiversity preservation.
    • There was also a common acceptance that there is too much ‘red tape’ and bureaucratic constraint surrounding the implementation and time scale of regional programmes. Programmes were also termed as being ‘too complacent’ in implementing their intended outcomes. The European Commission was also urged to engage more in the finalization of operational programmes within regions.
    • It was also speculated upon that there was a significant wastage of funds within Cohesion policy, and that there is a large potential scope to improve this problem.
    • It was stressed that horizontal and vertical investment needed clearer definition and that they should be used equally to ensure the optimal development of regional programmes.

    FREE believes that regional funding is vital for the development of remote and rural regions, which often do not possess the economic means alone to create and sustain programmes which aid the area as a whole. Initiatives which promote local and small-scale energy production are especially vital for off-grid regions which have a vulnerable security of supply. The European Partnership Projects have already displayed potential in aiding remote and rural regions in meeting their energy challenges. Regional programmes often also display the ability to help the renovation of buildings, and energy efficiency is indeed a key aspect of building renovation.