Myth : Rural areas are all powered by alternative energy anywayA 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
Energy policy tends to be written by and for an urban population. This ignores half of all European citizens and undermines their ability to improve their livelihoods and to contribute to broader social, commercial and environmental goals.
Rural communities are important…and need help
Rural areas represent 90% of all territory in the EU 27 and 56% of the population. They generate 43% of all economic value and support 55% of all employment. The communities are increasing, increasingly diverse and increasingly mirror the spread of commerce and services seen in urban communities. Despite this, policy makers responsible for rural areas tend to focus only on agriculture – important, yes, to the economy and identity of rural communities but only a small (and shrinking) part of the story.
Rural communities face considerable challenges. Income per inhabitant ranges from 21% to 62% lower and, although the picture is not uniform across the EU, unemployment tends to be higher too, as does fuel poverty. They need help and support, therefore, particularly when it comes to energy choices. Support they are not currently receiving from Europe’s regulators.
Why rural energy is important
Energy supply is just as crucial to rural development as the better known, and much vaunted, transport infrastructure, public services and broadband access.
Many homes and businesses are off-grid, with no access to mains gas and, in some cases, electricity. This could be an opportunity to embrace renewables, but in fact access to a genuinely diversified energy mix is generally limited. This means that:
- Rural communities have a higher carbon footprint than they need to and often higher, per person, than their urban compatriots.
- Rural communities are forced into choosing high-polluting energy sources, such as coal, heating oil or wood.
- Energy efficiency in housing is expensive, limited and therefore scarce. In France, for example, half of all rural homes predate 1949 and with little incentive to insulate and little access to smart technologies, these homes are likely to remain energy inefficient. Much of the rest of Europe faces a similar situation.
Having access to a variety of energy solutions, accessible, inexpensive and/or supported by government will help these communities bring themselves out of energy poverty, where this is an issue, and maximize their potential.
Facts & Figures
- Up to 5 million rural French dwellers cannot afford the cost of heating and lighting, often due to low energy efficiency.
- People living in rural and remote areas in Denmark often do not benefit from the national district heating network or natural gas network which covers 75% of the country.
- 15% of the German population lives in rural communities. But they produce 57% of German GDP.
- Farming accounts for only 25% of the rural workforce in Ireland.
- 74% of rural Italians use polluting heating oil to heat their homes.
- Poland has 4.4 million rural households, with migration to the country now outweighing migration from the country.
- 70% of the UK’s rural population believes that their government cares more about urban areas than about the countryside.
What can be done?
Solutions do exist to a lack of rural energy choice. In the first place, energy policy needs to be either re-examined and/or developed to ensure support for rural communities.
Europe is defining its energy future today and policymakers have to make rural energy an integral part of policies to make Europe cleaner, cohesive and livable for citizens in the countryside and cities. Rural energy has to be at the heart of the European energy strategy until 2050 currently discussed, the next stage of cohesion policy and the reform of the CAP.
As a first step, the EU has to create a level-playing field for clean fuels and technologies. For this we need energy and carbon taxation and fair financial incentives for clean technologies. Furthermore, the promotion of a cleaner production of power and heat through modern, energy-efficient technologies applications and especially innovative Micro-CHP (small scale combined heat and power production) should be one of the priorities for rural energy policy. Here consumers in the countryside can make a real difference for a cleaner environment.
Therefore, a wide range of energy options exist which could be made available to rural energy users. These range from low-carbon fuels such as Liquid Petroleum Gas for both cooking and heating, to various solar options, to Micro-CHP and materials which promote energy efficiency. All these solutions can be found in greater detail here.